Too Much of a Good Time?

Here’s the kind of problem that I like to have…

One of my book groups, a monthly science fiction and fantasy gathering, is just too successful. This summer, we’ve averaged  over twenty readers per meeting, with 26 showing up last night to talk about a subject that had me worried, nonfiction related to speculative fiction. It wasn’t a glamorous topic by any means!

I should frame this discussion. In the group in question, we don’t all read the same book. If I had to find that many copies and facilitate a discussion that involved that many voices, I would have split the group long ago. In my experience–though I’d love to hear about yours as well–a single book discussion starts to have problems with more than ten readers and really can’t function with more than fifteen. 

My SF/F group discusses a different theme each month, with members choosing their own books to introduce to the group. After housekeeping and a short introduction to the topic, the average reader takes about five minutes to share information about his or her book. In two hours, if I can keep diversions to a minimum (and that’s the biggest challenge with my rambunctious group), we can just squeeze in 20 to 25 readers. Several participants still come to hear others in months when they haven’t read a book on topic, which also helps us manage.

For most groups, my suggestions for overcrowding would include placing a membership cap, instituting strict rules governing the invitation of new members, or simply splitting the group. In this case, it’s my preference not to pursue those options. New blood keeps a thematic group fresh, and we’re the only game in town for fantasy and science fiction fans. The group has thrived because of a strong, and surprisingly diverse, sense of community (good meals at local restaurants after the meetings don’t hurt either!) I don’t want to risk that community by imposing a split.

So I suppose my group will keep numbers down through a combination of laissez faire and careful management. Those who find the crowds frustrating will come less often, and I’ll work to keep the conversation moving so everyone gets their turn. I may get more strict about time limits or stopping participants from introducing more than one book per meeting if need be. I’m actually pleased that we’re flourishing: as I said, it’s a very good problem to have.

What approaches do others have? We’d love to hear more about overcrowding and time management problems and solutions in the comments.

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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).

1 Comment on "Too Much of a Good Time?"

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  1. shavers@crc.losrios.edu' Shelley says:

    I want that vivacious and engaged book group! Do they have any interest in dust?

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