Get to Know the Harold Washington Literary Fiction Book Group

Book Group BuzzThis Chicago Public Library book group is led by a team of reference librarians who work together to choose titles, then evaluate how each meeting went with reports which they use for future discussions. Despite major leadership on the part of the librarians, the group members and their reading interests direct the group’s selections. Click here to read about another Chicago Public Library book group, the MASTERPIECE group.

Harold Washington

Leader: Several reference librarians, Bonnie Hines reports

Years of Operation: 10 years

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Tell us a little about your book group.

The Harold Washington Library Center is the main branch of the Chicago Public Library. The resident fiction book group started in June 2006 at the request of the patrons. The book group gravitates towards literature that takes a reader to another place or country. While the location needs to be a strong part of the book, they also enjoy learning about other cultures.

How do your group discussions work?

Orphan TrainThe reference staff moderates each meeting which gets together once a month. We have a different moderator for every meeting, so the vibe of the group comes from the attendees and they are the ones that steer the conversation. Each moderator prepares a biography of the author, talking points, and read-alikes. At the end of each meeting, the moderator writes a report that summarized the group’s feelings about the book. The other moderators review each of these reports which helps them choose future selections.

How does your group make its reading selections?

The moderators get together at the end of the year, each armed with several titles, and together they decide what will be read for the following year. The resources used to find these selections differs with each staff member.

Which book did your group collectively like the most this past year?

Of last year’s reading selections, the group most enjoyed Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline. A majority of the attendees had not previously known of the orphan trains and appreciated learning something new about our nation’s history.

Which is the most divisive book your group has read?

A Tale for the Time BeingThe book that most divided the group was A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. Many of the group members objected to the crude language and subject matter.

What is the best piece of advice you’d give a group that is just getting started?

Do not assume your personal favorite selections will also be the favorites of the group. Listen to the input of your group and let their tastes dictate material selection. Also, come armed with many questions to keep the discussion going. Even if you don’t get through half of the questions, at least you will not be stuck half-way through with awkward silence.

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About the Author:

Sarah Grant is the Marketing Associate for Booklist. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Grant.

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