Book Club Season Begins: What’s Your Model?

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As an adult readers’ advisory librarian, the “Back to School” hype doesn’t resonate quite as profoundly as it does for teen and children’s librarians. However, September does mark a notable beginning of the adult programming season for most libraries. Unlike our counterparts in the children’s dept., who are winding down from a frenzied summer of reading clubs and zombie walks, we’re just revving up. For many of us, September signals book club season, author reading events and more.

Today I’d like to talk about book clubs.

Here at North Van City Library, we have a drop-in book club model. Every six weeks on a Wednesday evening from 7-8:30, from September – June, anyone is invited to drop in for a discussion on a particular book. The books and dates are listed on our website ahead of time, and are also printed on a book mark we give away to interested people. I also maintain an email list of approximately 80 participants who get reminders and follow-ups regarding meetings.

We decided to do it this way instead of offering a member-only group with a limited number of spots because we wanted to provide access to a book club experience to as many people as possible. Since the club started, we have had anywhere from 9 to 37 people come for a Wednesday evening discussion. When more than 10 show up, we break up into groups of 5-7 people. One person from each group volunteers to facilitate their group’s discussion with the list of topics and questions I provide, and then I float around to the different groups. I also ask the participants to bring their own topics and questions about the book to discuss in their group. At the end of the night, we gather together and each group’s facilitator gives a quick synopsis of the group’s discussion to everyone.

I love this model. It allows for different and interesting conversations to happen each meeting. It provides greater access to book clubs than the member-only model. People appreciate the flexibility of not having to commit to every single meeting. And community members get to meet new and interesting people each time, as well as connect with regulars.

We choose books by compiling a list of suggestions from participants and myself, then voting on them via an online poll in the spring. I try to always include at least two local authors who I can then invite to my local author series, which provides for nice synergy and cross pollination between the two programs.

There are downsides to this model, however. We still only have 12 copies of each title, which means I have to maintain a somewhat complex holds list within our ILS. It also can get a bit chaotic with several groups having sometimes lively discussions in a room that is quite large (cap. 120) but doesn’t have the best acoustics.

Overall, I think this model works well for us here at North Vancouver. What about you? How do you do book club? What suggestions do you have for how to make these types of groups better?

–Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library (hschiller@cnv.org)

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