Batgirl to the (reading) rescue

Batgirl - librarian and calendar girl - is doing a great job promoting reading to students at an international school in Amsterdam.

Batgirl in Amsterdam

Batgirl has been at the International School of Amsterdam (ISA) for nearly two years, hanging out on the library desk in our Upper School Library.

She became a library phenomenon because I wanted a new way of promoting reading to our students. I had previously tried using a forum for a book club and doing a book blog once a week, but neither had really caught on. The book blog in particular was time consuming as finding an image, uploading it and writing a short piece for each entry took too much time when balanced against the impact it had.

Library news and reviews

What I needed was some way of quickly and easily blogging a recommended read and other library information to students in a visually appealing way. I chose Batgirl as a figure because, as you all know, she was a librarian. The doll I use is a collector's item, made by Tonner, which doesn't look childish (important when you're working with teenagers). By taking a photo of Batgirl with a book on my iPhone I can easily recommend a book every day.

Batgirl on social media

At first I just used Twitter, uploading the photo via Twitpic on Tweetdeck. Having the link and only 140 characters, I have to be very succinct with the blurb - but it does mean I concentrate on the 'sizzle not the sausage' - in book terms, why I love the book not a full outline of the plot. Both the photo and text feeds are embedded into the library website (aka the Batcave), so students can see that the recommendations change every day.

This worked well as a starting point, however I found that our students prefer Facebook to Twitter (in fact it's mostly librarians that follow her). I had already set up a Facebook account for Batgirl to teach students about privacy settings, but then not done much with it. Using Tweetdeck I linked into Facebook and actively went about adding students as friends. This was extremely successful and she now has more friends than me! Students ask her to be friends and occasionally post on her wall. I am obviously careful with privacy and keep everything within her circle of friends.

Visual appeal

Each day students see a book recommendation with a photo of the book cover in their Facebook newsfeed, a simple visually appealing way to promote reading. My plan for this school year is to link into social reading site Good Reads, and get our older students to set up a reading group.

Students seem to really like Batgirl as a character, though they often ask me "Are you Batgirl?" I reply "No, Batgirl's Batgirl". I even had a student complain that Batgirl was never on Facebook chat.  Her postings do sometimes lead to unexpected conversations. I had noticed a lot of spam wall posts so Batgirl posted "there's lots of spam stuff on FB... be careful what you click on". A couple of days later a parent thanked me because her son had asked her what spam was and they'd been able to talk about it together.

I use Batgirl to promote new library services and events too. In Book Week she advertised our open mike session, qr code posters and dress up days. She has an extensive wardrobe of costumes, which she modelled on the library's calendar.

Batgirl also travels and attends conferences. Catch up with her at Internet Librarian 2011 in London (I'll be there too).

Donna Saxby is Upper School Librarian at the International School of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  She will be speaking at Internet Librarian International 2011. You can follow her on Twitter (@librarydonna).