by GRACE SCHUMACHER
The Popular Reading section of Simpson Library has been brought back to life after its absence during the 2020-2021 academic year.
The Popular Reading section, which includes everything from fantasy, to thriller, to memoirs, can be found to the left of the circulation desk on the first floor of Simpson Library. UMW students can check out books from the section for up to 35 days using their EagleOne card.
Simpson Library has had a long-standing McNaughton lease subscription with the library lenders company Brodart Co. The lease subscription program is a way for libraries to establish rotating collections of popular titles.
When deciding which books to order from the lease subscription, the library staff evaluates different reading resources such as Goodreads, public library picks, new release catalogs and popular reading guides. The library staff also look at which titles seem to be popular amongst students.
The library administrators agreed that because COVID-19 prevented students from accessing the books specially ordered for them, the subscription should be canceled during the fall 2020 to spring 2021 academic year. Popular Reading has been a part of Simpson Library for upwards of ten years, with the pandemic introducing UMW’s first academic year without this student section.
Rebecca Harris, the night circulation supervisor of Simpson Library, started working in the library during the height of the pandemic when there were not many students on campus or studying in the library. She said the atmosphere of the library, now that campus has opened back up, is completely different.
“I started this job back in March of 2020,” Harris said. “So I have yet to really experience a normal semester here at UMW.”
Harris eagerly took on the revival of the Popular Reading section during September of this year and is continuing to add to the section with a combination of New York Times bestsellers and students’ hot picks.
“There was a transition period when students would ask where the books were. I’d have to tell them we didn’t have them,” said Harris. “I think it showed just how popular the section was.”
All of the titles displayed are influenced by student engagement with the section. Typically, all of the borrowed books are sent back at the end of the month and new ones are borrowed. However, UMW can renew their loan of particular books if they are popular with students.
Harris estimates that students should expect to see a collection of new books every month.
“I’m happy because I’ve been noticing books are off the shelves,” said Harris, “Because the first few weeks, it seemed like it was all untouched … I think because people didn’t know they were there.”
The section has proven to be a “hidden gem,” as Harris calls it.
“I just came across the popular book set-up this year,” said sophomore business major John Staugaitis.“I think it’s nice to have reading options that aren’t reference or research related.”
Student input is the foundation of the section, and library administrators encourage students to make suggestions both at the front desk or through the link found at the bottom of the Popular Reading website.
“Students have a say in what books we select, and we would love it if more students contributed suggestions for what Popular Reading books we choose,” said James Pape, the access services and outreach librarian and previous supervisor of the section. “All anyone needs to do is either provide a suggestion for a Popular Reading book at the front desk or via email to UMWLibraries@umw.edu.”
During times of crisis, libraries take pride in staying open as vital community centers. For Simpson Library, COVID-19 did not mean shutting down; it required finding new ways to serve and support their students from a distance. Simpson provided extended renewal and return policies, expanded online checkout services and added digital resources.
Simpson’s administrators chose to view the pandemic with a clean slate attitude, taking the extra time to revamp the student resources they have available on campus.
“The pandemic provided us with the opportunity to take a look at how books were selected and fine-tune it a bit so our UMW students have the best Popular Reading selection possible,” said Pape.
Popular books can also be viewed on the Library’s website. Some students appreciate having this digital option.
“It’s nice to be able to check what books the library has from my phone,” said junior geography major Caitlin Shirvinski. “That way I can decide if I want to swing by on my way from class.”
Many are excited about the return of the Popular Reading section.
“The Popular Book section is a much-needed mental distraction for many students on campus,” said Pape, “I am glad to see it back in the library.”