Readings Week Six: Book Clubs!

I was happy to see Nancy Pearl quoted in the Beth Dempsey Library Journal article. Nancy Pearl is one of my heroes and was a big influence in my decision to go to library school. I feel very strongly about reading and the power and magic of stories and storytelling. Plus, she’s a Detroit native and an UMSI graduate (back when it was the School of Library Science)!

Reading about the success of the Not Your Ordinary Book Club at a public library in Maine gave me warm fuzzies, especially this: “Older members have taken classes to learn how to blog, because they wanted to be included…. It has been wonderful!” (from this article). The librarian used a hybrid form, where the club met monthly in the physical library, but also had an online blog component where members could interact online. She had nothing but positive reviews of the set-up, discussing the way it allowed both the traditional in-person book clubbers and new patrons who wanted to participate anonymously online to join the same group. This article went on to describe other new models of book clubs and book groups, ranging from taking the meetings outside of the library and after hours to accommodate young professionals to book groups in prisons. Everything Dempsey described sounded great to me. Book clubs are a fantastic way for users to experience and discover new material in the library; they are at the very least a fun experience, and at best a life-enriching and community-building one.

Other libraries are shaking up the old book club model by switching out a single book for a theme, meaning that participants can choose from a variety of books and discuss them in a single meeting. Another Library Journal article detailed this, and other new changes and trends in library book clubs. One issue that they just barely touched on was the gender divide: most book club participants are women. The author mentioned the fact that some library book clubs are trying to cast off the image of a book club only reading Oprah’s picks, and instead choosing some non-fiction titles to read–however, non-fiction is apparently a hard sell. I’m curious to see what, if anything, librarians are doing to create more gender diversity in book clubs.

This article also mentioned the growing number of teens who are participating in online book clubs via a blog or something similar. Again–I think that’s so great. While some may lament that the newer generations are hiding behind the computer screen and becoming less social, creating the opportunity for an online book club will still 1) accomplish the goal of fostering a sense of community (no matter that it’s from a keyboard), and 2) perhaps spark someone’s curiosity about an author or genre and entice them to read even more.

A social discussion forum similar to book clubs is the Socratic seminar. The premise is that the class/group forms an inner and outer circle; the inner circle discusses the text while the outer observes and then gives feedback. Then the two groups switch. Before this class, I was unfamiliar with this concept–but it seems to be a great tool for teaching reading comprehensions, as well as scholarly discussion. I enjoyed reading Margaret Metzger’s account of her high school freshman class and their experience with the Socratic seminar. She emphasized the increase not only in her students’ enthusiasm for discussion, but also an increase in their reading comprehension skills. The Tredway article took a slightly different tact and stressed what I liked most about this format: as a result, the school prepares thoughtful citizens capable of intelligent discussion, and are able to participate in a democratic society (Tredway). Socratic seminars are an intriguing concept and seem, anecdotally, to be highly effective with K-12 students. Because of the skills the seminars teach, they are a perfect tool for middle and high-school students to prepare for college. Perhaps they would transition well into discussion groups for teens, but as of right now I feel wary of them in an academic library setting. Don’t students “get enough” of that in class? How would academic librarians use a Socratic seminar effectively?

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4 thoughts on “Readings Week Six: Book Clubs!

  1. I really really liked the idea about book clubs being about themes, rather than individual books. After a while, even the most diverse group will run out of new things to say about the same book. Letting each person choose their own book creates so much more freedom in discussion! Also, the gender issue did not really even occur to me before. Choosing different books would probably lessen the stigma for men. That seems like a much better option to help men and boys read than what I’ve seen in libraries recently.

    I was a little skeptical about the idea of online book clubs, but you make good points. Using an online environment could be more inviting to those who have not been big readers before. If they liked what they read in book club, they might expand and read more.

    The use of Socratic seminars in academic libraries is a good question. Perhaps there isn’t really a need for them. You are right, in that they are good at teaching students skills for college, but is there more those seminars can teach once they get to college? I am not sure either. I think you’re right that students get that kind of stuff in class, and wouldn’t be too excited about doing more of that in their off time. I think the idea of an academic library book club would be much better, if they focused on lighter popular fiction, rather than dense non-fiction. It would be a good incentive for students to use the library more often and see the resources available other than online journals.

  2. I found the comment about the gender divide interesting too, and I also found myself wondering what effective ways of addressing this point might be. The article seems to mention non-fiction as a possibility, but I found that a little strange and honestly a little sexist. It seemed to indicate that men prefer non-fiction, but in my experience there are plenty of men who love fiction just as there are plenty that love non fiction. What I find more is that man or woman many readers tend to lean towards either fiction or non fiction in terms of preferred reading, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with their gender.

    One approach that a book club that I am/was a part of tried was choosing male authors, which annoyed the hell out of me. The theory seemed to be that female authors always = Jane Austen, which will not attract men to the group. After we had read 7 books without a single appearance by a female author I started to complain. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against male authors, but I felt there needed to be some balance and there are plenty of female authors who write books that appeal to men and women, plus in spite of reading books by all male authors we still only had a couple of male book club members and an overwhelming number of female book club members, so it isn’t even as though the method was working very well.

    I think that maybe instead of focusing so heavily on “what books will attract men?” the focus should be on “what books are quality and will attract readers?”

  3. I think that a thematic book club sounds really cool, but I am a little skeptical of how it would actually work. I think it would be difficult to start a brand new book club, with members who do not know each other well and have the meeting run flawlessly. I would imagine that the discussion could be in danger of derailing and not allowing for an in depth discussion of the material or ideas. I think I would like it a little more if I could see a book club like that in action to get a better feel for it.

    I actually think that Socratic seminars could be really successful in academic libraries. In college I had a lot of friends who were science majors and weren’t able to fit many literature or English classes into their schedule. I think academic libraries could try and market to that group of students to encourage more pleasure reading among undergraduates, especially without the added pressure of taking a class for credit.

  4. I have to agree with the above comment that Socratic seminars do have potential in academic libraries. Though they may “get enough” discussion of readings they had to do for class, there may be some things they care about more deeply and would like to discuss with their peers. But certainly you would have to choose a work that would entice them to extra-curricular reading. They may be more successful with popular fiction, as long as the facilitator helps steer comments away from whether or not they liked the material to a more substantial discussion.

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