There’s a mystery afflicting several of my book groups, and many book-discussion leaders I talk with have the same problem. Might you have it too? We’re haunted by book-group phantoms—mysterious guests who sign up for our book groups, check out the book, and evaporate into thin air. We never end up seeing them! Stranger still, no one in the group will admit to knowing them. Do they even exist? Who are these phantoms?!
But seriously. This is a problem, because it prevents a dedicated book-group member from having a book during the month they need to read it. In my group, what makes the matter a true mystery is that this absentee book-group member always seems to check out the book the moment I’ve stepped away from my desk! I am NEVER able to identify her . . . or is it him? Or (shudder) it??
These phantoms are experts in evasion.
For my book groups, I have a set number of books that have been purchased exclusively for our use. I have heard of other discussion leaders placing an author bio, discussion questions, or talking points in the books ahead of time, laying the groundwork for an enhanced reading experience—those materials then go missing, too. Naturally, I never know exactly how many members will attend, and I never expect an exact head count. Numbers fluctuate in my monthly meetings as some people go on vacation, others are called to watch grandchildren, and still others may be snowbirds off in warmer climates. This in itself has never bothered me. As a discussion leader, I think it’s important to be flexible and accommodate all kinds of group members. However, I don’t have an infinite number of books for the group.
If we end up being short a book for our discussions, there are only so many things I can do. I’ll try to bring in circulating copies from the district’s collection, but that can be iffy. The book may not arrive on time, or even in good reading condition. I have often given up my copy and driven to a neighboring library district to find the selection. I have also tried asking the book-group members to help identify the person, but to no avail—these phantoms are experts in evasion.
I am out of ideas. I have dithered about this problem for years and haven’t really come up with a solution. So, I’m conducting some detective work, and am appealing to you. What can I do? Do you also have book-group phantoms at your library? Do you have a policy that addresses this issue? With shrinking book budgets, I am in need of some desperate help. Please help me unmask these spooks!