Selection Survey

Last week, I wrote about how to use a blind survey to address underlying unhappiness with your book group’s discussion habits. This week, let’s turn to the next biggest source of the book group blues: discontent with books selected by the group or the process for that selection.

Unhappiness with book selection can take many forms. Some readers complain loudly if the group is not reading what they want. Others are more passive, skipping meetings when they don’t like the book or making subtle complaints during discussion. Some simply suffer in silence.

You can’t make everyone happy with book selections, and one of the great values of book groups is to introduce readers to great books they would not try on their own or to expand their skills and horizons with challenging reading. Still, your readers should feel like the overall direction of book selection is in their best interest and that they have some input to the selection process. If they don’t feel these things, they won’t keep coming for long. Is your selection process getting the results your readers want? Here are a few more blind survey questions you can use to seek out and resolve discontent:

  • On a scale from 1 (very unhappy) to 7 (very happy), how do you feel about the quality of our group’s book selections?
  • On a scale from 1 (very unhappy with my lack of input) to 7 (very satisfied with my input), how do you feel about your chances to give input to selection of titles?
  • Do you have any suggestions for change in our selection process?
  • On a scale from 1 (books are often difficult to obtain) to 7 (books have been easy to find), has it been easy to obtain the books we have selected for discussion?
  • On a scale from 1 (I would like to be challenged much more) to 7 (I would like much easier books), how do you feel about the difficulty of the books we select?
  • Is the selection of books for our group well balanced? If not, how should that balance change? List genres, themes, styles, or moods from which more books should be selected.
  • List up to 5 books that the group has selected which you created the best discussion or were the most memorable. What qualities of the books led to these good results?
  • List up to 5 books that the group has selected which did not lead to good discussion. What qualities of the books created the problems?

Compile the results and announce them to the group. In particular, watch for negative opinions shared by the majority of members. If the results reveal problems that many of your readers share, you can address them. Conversely, the results may also help a small minority of unhappy readers to realize that others do not perceive the same problems with the group.

Few book groups are happy all the time, and every group will pick an occasional clunker, but a little proactive thinking will go a long way to keeping your readers on course.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On... Fantasy Fiction and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups.

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