Book Groups and Libraries: A Little Therapy

This relationship has gone flat. Maybe it’s time to consider some counseling.

Book groups and libraries should be the perfect match. Libraries want to cultivate readers: you bring energy to us. You keep our collections moving. When readers talk to librarians, it makes our work feel worthwhile and informs our decision making. Book groups in turn need advice and support. As rewarding as they are, every group goes through dull patches where the meetings just aren’t clicking. Taking advantage of some free resources or getting help from a good librarian can provide that fix that gets your group humming again.

But for this to happen, lines of communication need to open. From what I’ve seen when I look around, neither book groups nor libraries take full advantage of the possibilities, the synergy they can provide for each other.

Here’s step one: an introduction. If you organize a book group, let your local library know about the group. Give them the contact information of your leaders and let them know some basics: what your group tends to read (if you’ve got a list of recent selections, by all means pass it along), what your members are like, when you meet. Let the librarian know if you are open to new members and whether they should have those new members contact you directly or if you would prefer for them to take some information and pass that along to your group. Ask if they have any special resources for groups. Ask if they can help you with discussion information. Ask about what databases and references about books and authors are available. Even if you don’t need help right now, open communication: the time will come when every book group needs a little help.

If the first librarian you talk to doesn’t seem very receptive, ask if anyone on staff has a particular interest in book groups, readers’ advisory, or the particular kinds of books that your group reads. All librarians aren’t avid readers. Some are more interested in other subject specialties, technology, programming, or working with particular populations. But every library has got someone on staff who is avidly interested in books. Find these librarians and cultivate them as resources.

For those of you who work in libraries, think about the package of services you offer to book groups. Often in the profession, we get too focused on supporting groups that the library sponsors directly and don’t think enough about how we can provide help to all of the community groups that function on their own. In my next post I’ll outline the variety of services that libraries can consider for groups. A good start is to ask this: Is your library aware of the groups in your community? Figuring out a way to communicate with them is the first step to creating that positive synergy that we all need.

We can still save this relationship. We’ve been through a lot together, and we still care about the same things. Let’s talk to each other and see if we can work out the problems.

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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 (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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