New Year, New Members Pt.2

In the first part of this post, I made the case for why your group needs new members and how to attract them. Now the big question: a new reader has walked through the door… What can you do to keep him or her coming back? Here are some ideas:

1) IF THE SHOE DOESN’T FIT…

First, accept that the majority of new members will not stick, and that’s OK. Either the group or the new reader will often decide that it’s not a good fit, and most often, the new reader will disappear after one or two meetings. That’s not always bad. It’s better not to limp along with readers who are after something else. The real question is how to keep readers who really do have something to add to your group.

2) BE PREPARED

Spend time at a meeting before any new person arrives discussing what your group would like potential members to know. This is a good chance for your group to clarify its vision and goals. Write up the results in a one page document and have copies ready at each meeting in case a new person shows up. Include basics like the frequency and location of meetings, the process for selecting books, any rules or recommendation for discussion, and contact information. List a few of the titles or themes that the group has discussed and enjoyed previously. Providing this basic information is inviting and can prevent awkward moments created by inappropriate expectations.

3) GET SOME GREETERS

Pick out a couple of the more friendly members of your group and ask them to watch for new people at meetings. Assign them the role of casually sitting down next to newbies and engaging them, if possible, in a little conversation. A group as a whole can be daunting, but contact with a few friendly individuals is usually welcome.  If possible, have your greeter introduce the new member after some chat. “Hey, I’d like to introduce….” feels more spontaneous and is less intimidating than the spotlight of “Please introduce yourself to us.”

4) COLLECT CONTACT INFORMATION AND FOLLOW UP

The fastest way to lose your new readers is to leave all of the work to them. Collect contact information on first attendance, and if a fit seems plausible, get in touch about halfway between meetings. Tell the new reader that she or he seems like a good fit for your group and issue personal invitations to the next meeting or two.

5) INVITE PARTICIPATION, BUT DON’T PUT NEWBIES ON THE SPOT

After any new person is introduced, tell them directly that you look forward to his or her participation. Then reinforce any comments the newbie makes by paying attention, asking follow-up questions, and providing positive feedback for interesting ideas. Don’t, however, ask a bunch of direct questions. Nobody likes to feel like they’re taking oral examinations.

6) BE AWARE OF YOUR GROUP’S QUIRKS AND HISTORY

Established groups have many behaviors can be offputting to new members. When newer readers are attending the group, keep an eye out for their occurrence and provide a little translation. When references to past books come up, jump in and briefly recap what went before. Explain inside jokes. If your group tends to have lots of digressions, make light: “You’ll discover that we go off-topic at the drop of a hat, but that’s half the fun. If we don’t come back to the point, just kick us.”

With a little work, your group can retain more of its new members. Those that you lose are probably just not meant to be. If you have other ideas for keeping ’em coming back, please share 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 "New Year, New Members Pt.2"

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  1. ckubala@columbiactlibrary.org' CarolK says:

    I’ll give some of your suggestions a try and see how they work out.

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