When is it time to stop?

In most of the library-sponsored book clubs I’ve moderated, the attendance fluctuates based on any number of reasons –   time of year, what the title is, etc.  There always seems to be a constant number of regulars, however.

I’m wondering, what’s the smallest group, for how long, before you decide to end a book discussion group?  Are 2-3 people enough?  What if you only had 2-3 people for 6 months and never seemed to grow any more?

At a library I worked in previously, we thought long and hard about bringing an end to our evening discussion group, because we had a core of only about 4-5 people,  and we weren’t sure that was enough to keep it going.  After some back-and-forth, we decided to keep it going because the group wasn’t “costing” us anything – we didn’t purchase extra books for the group, and the staff time was really minimal.

What are your thoughts or experiences?

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About the Author:

Rebecca Vnuk is the editor for Collection Management and Library Outreach at Booklist. She is also the author of 3 reader’s-advisory nonfiction books: Read On…Women’s Fiction (2009), Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (2014), and Women’s Fiction Authors: A Research Guide (2009). Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_RVnuk.

2 Comments on "When is it time to stop?"

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  1. ckubala@columbiactlibrary.org' CarolK says:

    Our long running non-fiction group maintains an attendance somewhere between 9-14(men and women). A patron thought we should have a fiction group so one was started about 8 years ago. It has always been a struggle to keep the membership up in this group. The past couple of years have seen a revival and it consistantly attracts 9-12 women. I worried when this group dropped to 5-6 for a few months but the small group didn’t seem to hurt the discussion or cause it to lag unless it had little to discuss to begin with. I let it ride and attendance picked up again.

    Both groups meet in the evening. Many of the members have been coming for years and some belong to both groups. I sometimes wonder if this familiarty helps or hinders. I do know I make a real effort to welcome any new participant and to quickly make them feel part of the whole.

    Our library feels much like yours. The discussions cost us little, and are considered adult programming and good pr for the library. If attendance went below 5 for 4 months or so I’d want to rethink it, perhaps not to cancel but to actively seek new members.

    Rather than how few are too little, I often wonder the opposite. How many are too many? When that non-fiction group capped one evening at 17, it really became difficult for some to have a voice. The 9-12 seems to work for us.

    In addition both groups combined to discuss The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and this year will come together to discuss In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson. This once a year meeting, large as it could be, with planning, seems to work.

  2. misha says:

    I had an evening book group for a couple of years before I decided to make it an afternoon group. People said they wanted an evening group but the reality of Seattle’s downtown is such that much of it shuts down by 4, parking is atrocious and most just want to get home by the end of the day.

    So once my evening group started becoming a consistent 4, even though discussions were good, it was hard to maintain a group that wouldn’t commit.

    Since my group became an afternoon group, I have had anywhere from 10-15 regulars, mostly women but some men along the way.

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