Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Book Group Therapy: A Survey Reveals Some Truths about Why Some Book Groups Work and Others May Need Some Time on the Couch

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Book Group Therapy: A Survey Reveals Some Truths about Why Some Book Groups Work and Others May Need Some Time on the Couch

Article excerpt

Book groups, whether library-sponsored or privately hosted, continue to grow in popularity. Perhaps the opportunity to connect to others face-to-face in what is an increasingly virtual world motivates people to come together to talk about their reading. Or perhaps it is the food. In any case, reader interest in book discussions offers libraries a lot of opportunities to interact with their reading community and is a chance for libraries to reinforce their value to the community, a useful thing in unsettled economic times.

In 2008, the RUSA CODES Readers' Advisory Committee surveyed book group participants across the country Among the most interesting of the survey results was the discovery of a common set of problems that book groups seem to face no matter where they are or how long they have been meeting.

Here, Megan McArdle explores these ongoing book group issues and offers suggestions that libraries can use when working with their local groups. These suggestions also will be useful for book group members seeking to improve the quality of their book group experience.

Megan McArdle is the Manager for Collection Development and Technical Services at the Berkeley (Calif.) Public Library. Active in ALA and the Public Library Association, she is the past chair of the RUSA's Readers' Advisory Committee and is on the Advisory Committee for H.W. Wilson's Fiction Catalog.--Editor

At the far end of a dimly lit hallway, in a mostly unoccupied office building, there's a plain, unassuming door with the words "Book Group Therapist" hand-lettered on the glass. As you gingerly open the door and enter the office, a cool-eyed blond with an authoritarian air gestures to the enormous couch that stretches across the far wall of the room. "Ah! You must be my ten o'clock clients. Come in and have a seat." Your book group dutifully files into the office and jostles for position on the couch, while the therapist slowly looks you over. "In this room I require absolute honesty if we are to get at the root of your group's dysfunctional issues." She makes eye contact with each member, pausing over those members fussing with cell phones or furtively looking for the coffee. "Shall we begin? Let's start by talking about your childhood reading..."

Oh, if only this kind of therapy was a reality for a troubled book group! Whether brand new or long-established, book groups can run into problems. These can range from the benign (a book fails flat) to the group-killing (unpleasant meetings filled with bickering that leave members intimidated and afraid to return). Learning what some of the most commonly occurring problems are with book groups, what some of the most successful books discussed in their groups are, and what members would most like to change about their groups are just some of the useful results that came out of a 2008 survey conducted by the RUSA CODES Readers' Advisory Committee. A review of the survey findings should help all those working with book groups to get ideas on how to provide some therapy, or at least some therapeutically good reads.

In late 2007, the Readers' Advisory Committee was planning for a program at the 2008 ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, California, called Book Group Therapy: How to Repair, Revamp, and Revitalize Your Book Group. This program was intended to help librarians who host library book groups or work with community book groups. The committee members had all experienced and heard from our peers that there were some common issues that book groups run into, and we wanted to provide some strategies to help solve these problems. As research for the program we decided to conduct a survey of book groups to try and find out more about what makes them tick. We put together some questions that we found interesting, let it loose on the Web (via the wonderful SurveyMonkey application), told people we thought would be interested (through posts to blogs, discussion lists, and newsletters), and slowly watched the responses come in. …

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