By November 17, 2010 1 Comments Read More →

More on Starting Thematic Groups

Rebecca has been exploring genre groups in her recent posts and I wanted to add my two cents. When first starting as a librarian, I had the windfall of encountering a group of science fiction and fantasy fans–some members of a previously failed book group and others among the organizers of the annual local SF/fantasy Con. They were ready to make another try at a book group. As a fan of these genres myself, I was in the right place at the right time.

Seven years later, this thematic group is still going strong. Our meeting last night was one of the lower turnouts in recent months: 17 readers. The group nurtures several published writers (and has certainly inspired much of my writing about these genres), provides the core group of organizers for MarsCon, and bolsters all kinds of other member activities from beading to bellydancing to various collections to theater. Some of our members have even entered committed relationships with each other.

Much of what I have learned about how to start and organize such a group is detailed in my book Fellowship in a Ring: A Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups and the lessons there are applicable to thematic groups beyond speculative fiction. But if I had to give a short list of advice to librarians hoping to hit the jackpot with such a group, here are a few ideas I would consider:

  • First, pay attention. The group you want may be right under your nose. Are subject-oriented groups meeting in your library that show interest in books related to their topic? Do several readers show persistent interest in a shared subject? Look for people who are passionately geeky about topics they love and don’t dismiss them as obsessive or difficult to serve. I had to laugh when I saw the parade of folk coming into the library for early SF/F group meetings, but they’ve been nothing but a boon for us at WRL.
  • Look at local writers who donate books to your library. If their work is in a particular genre or about a particular subject, they might welcome becoming part of a group that explores other works in this literature.
  • If you can’t find the group in your library, look around town. The local newspaper may help you identify the more active social groups. These same people can be turned into book groups if their subject passion is steady.
  • Experiment with book-related programming. Try programs on different subjects and see if any of them draw a passionate audience. I tried a book club with rotating themes a few years ago. That club didn’t take, but one of our meetings, which looked at English authors and English settings, drew a fantastic response. I should have listened and dropped the rotating theme in favor of an Anglophile book club. I have no doubt that group would still be going strong.
  • If you do start a thematic group, don’t require everyone to read the same book. If we made one decision that led to the success of our SF/F group, it was to pick subthemes each month and let readers pick their own book within the subtheme instead of forcing them to read one common book. I support them with a list of books that fit the subtheme from our collection, distributed a month in advance. Even in thematic groups, you will have readers with many approaches, and if you overspecialize, you might get a tiny, loyal group If you’d prefer a big, happy family-style group, allow for variation in interests within the group. This diversity will ultimately make the group more robust and flexible.
  • Include social activity. A thematic group begins with a common bond, and that will make them want to socialize with each other. My SF/F group goes out to dinner after each meeting. A splinter group kibbitzes over coffee at a local bookstore in weeks when the book group isn’t meeting. Our December meeting is a bustling Christmas party and other social events occur throughout the year. Social bonds in turn nurture the book group. Our members come to meetings even in months when they haven’t finished a book, listening attentively and commenting on the reading of others. They enjoy the interaction, and because they attend, they’re more likely to come back the next month with a book to talk about themselves.

I am the lucky librarian who has benefitted from tapping into a community that was already beginning to percolate, a community that was passionate about a subject that I loved as well. But my suspicion is that  many of these communities lurk within the patron base of any library, even in relatively small towns. Track them down and you can have a success story too.



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 "More on Starting Thematic Groups"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1.' Cate K says:

    As a fantasy reader and writer I have been thinking about starting a fantasy/sf discussion group at our library. Thank for the tips!

Post a Comment