Rethinking Your Community Reads Project

By Shannan Rosa, Collection Development Librarian and Joyce Skokut, Director, Collection Development

A Community Reads project can be a great way to draw a community together by reading the same book at the same time. In many regards, a Community Reads project is similar to most book clubs. A quick Google search about book clubs brings back a plethora of articles about do’s and don’ts and common reasons they fail. This made us wonder if the best practices that book clubs have developed and their lessons learned can be useful to libraries with Community Reads projects, and vice versa.

If you haven’t done so lately, we suggest examining your motives and the goals you had in mind as you established a community reads project. Did you want to bring like minds together for community camaraderie? Drive traffic into the library? Facilitate intellectual discussions? Entertain? And what, do you suppose, were the hopes and goals that most of your participants had when they joined the Community Reads project? Do you know how well both parties’ goals are being met?

Many of us have been part of a failed book club once or twice. The reasons for failure are as numerous as the people who join them, but one of the most common themes is participants not wanting to read the books that get chosen. In a community reads project the local public library generally takes ownership of selecting a title that they believe people will want to read, and in making sure copies of the book are available for participants. Choosing the right title, with so many possibilities, can be daunting. Of course you want to pick something that will have wide appeal, spark imaginations, and inspire interesting discussions. You’ll find a few ideas to consider below.

Book Group Titles:

Many publishers offer lists of titles recommended for book groups, and sometimes produce book club editions that include discussion questions and other supplementary materials in the back pages. These tend to be high-quality literary fiction titles. Check individual publishers’ websites for more information.

Current Bestsellers:

Participants might be enticed by the prospect of reading and discussing a hot new title with lots of buzz.

Local and Regional Authors:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to support the work of someone from your own community? Perhaps a local author would be willing to participate in your Community Reads project in some way, to give a presentation or attend a book discussion.

Movie and TV Tie-Ins:

Perhaps fans of a popular movie or TV show would like to read the book it was originally based on, to give them a fuller understanding and experience of the source material.

Classics:

Some books have staying power and become culturally important due to various factors: historical significance, quality of the writing, uniqueness of the author’s voice. Many classics have universal themes that are as relevant to today’s readers as they were when they were written. For example, Frankenstein brings up issues of the ethics of science that tie in with modern debates on such topics as GMOs and vaccines. Huckleberry Finn touches on issues of race and justice that continue to shape American history.

Formats:

You may wish to choose a title that is available in various formats to maximize its accessibility and the number of participants who will be able to enjoy it. Check to see if your title is available in large print, audio and e-book formats in addition to regular print.

Availability:

You will want to make sure that the title you choose is available for purchase in the quantities you need. Popular titles are stocked in large quantities in Ingram warehouses and with over 14 million titles available from Ingram in total, we can even supply titles for those with more esoteric tastes! Don’t worry if you don’t see enough copies of the title you want on ipage®, go ahead and order it anyway because the chances that your backorder can be fulfilled quickly are high.

Time is Of the Essence:

We encourage you to choose the title and order your copies as far in advance as possible, because we don’t want you to be disappointed. You may wish to explore pre-pub titles that you are considering via ipage®, or at Edelweiss.

Let Ingram Help:

Ask your sales rep to check on a title for you if you are concerned about getting enough copies on time, and Ingram will do our very best to accommodate you. If you’d like our Collection Development librarians to offer title suggestions for community reads or for any other project you’ve got going on, let us know.

So, you’ve chosen and ordered the title, set the date, and you’re ready! What else needs to be done in order to ensure a successful event? Does someone on the library staff facilitate the discussions, or do you let the group choose a facilitator? It’s worth assessing how well the current strategy is working in your situation, especially if you’ve ever had the experience of having a group who strongly disagree about the merits of a particular book.

Do you talk with participants regularly to collect their thoughts about the process? Maybe your patrons want to be pushed to read things that they might not normally choose in order to allow for a possible pleasant surprise.

We encourage you to keep assessing, evolving, and to keep an open mind to ensure that your library’s community reads program becomes essential to your patrons. Libraries: Unite Your Patrons! Please join us for a webinar on December 1st as we talk with four librarians who will share their insights and experiences with Community Reads programs. Register here.