Book Group Ideas from ALA

While I didn’t see any programs that were solely about book groups on the agenda at the recent ALA conference, there were many ideas that book groups could incorporate brought up in sessions I attended.

Guerrilla MarketingThese ideas come from my favorite program at the conference, a session called “Leading Readers to Water… Guerrilla Marketing for RA.”  The program was offered by four excellent librarians from Schaumburg Township District Library and the Glenside Public Library District, who collected examples of forward-thinking RA practices from around the country. Click the link above to see the Powerpoint presentation that accompanied the session. For those who aren’t librarians, “RA” stands for “Readers’ Advisory,” the term used by librarians to describe the efforts we make to support readers and connect them to books that fit their reading preferences. Supporting book groups is considered an important component of readers’ advisory practice in most public libraries around the country.

Some of the ideas for book groups that they highlighted included:

  • More support for specialized book groups. They included examples of book groups devoted to particular genres, nonfiction subjects, food groups that read a cookbook and then prepare recipes at home or together, book into film groups that read a book then watch its adaptation, audiobook groups, and ebook groups.
  • How about a short fiction group? At Seattle Public Library, David Wright gives entertaining readings of stories for a drop-in lunchtime crowd and then leads discussion.
  • Can’t meet every month? How about a quarterly discussion group that focuses on some of those big books that a monthly group can’t typically finish?
  • I like the idea of short-run book groups. Instead of committing to permanent status, how about forming a group to read works in a beloved subject for four to six months? If the group is flourishing at the end, maybe a permanent endeavor can begin. If it isn’t, move on to a new subject matter with a different group of readers. Kansas City Public Library, for instance, read Austen, Bronte, Eliot, and Lawrence in a short-run group called “A Taste of Victorian Literature.”
  • If your area has a large ethnic population that speaks a particular language, try a foreign language group. You can mix literature, poetry, food, music, travel, and art into a cultural potpourri.
  • Consider the location where you offer your group. One library working on attracting 20- and 30-somethings holds a book group in a local bar that they call the “Lit Lounge.” A book group with a military focus has held meetings among veterans at the local American Legion Hall. Yet another group combines fitness and literature with a “Walk and Talk” group where members have their discussion while strolling the trails of a local park.
  • Other libraries are finding ways to support their groups by providing online resources or by asking local groups to register so they can point new members in their direction, help advertise their events, or send them support materials in a regular newsletter.

I know my library will be trying out some of these great ideas in the upcoming month. Are there other interesting practices out there that you’d like to share?

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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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