Extracurricular Reading: Creating and Sustaining on Campus Book Clubs

By Goldberg, Martin | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Extracurricular Reading: Creating and Sustaining on Campus Book Clubs


Goldberg, Martin, Reference & User Services Quarterly


Readers' advisory services continue to expand into the academic world in a variety of ways. In past RUSQ Readers' Advisory columns, Julie Elliott has explored the opportunities and challenges to providing extracurricular reading assistance in campus libraries (see "Academic Libraries and Extracurricular Reading Promotion," Reference & User Services Quarterly 46, no. 3 (2007): 34-43; and "Barriers to Extracurricular Reading Promotion in Academic Libraries," Reference & User Services Quarterly 48, no. 4 (2009): 340-46). Readers' advisory services can offer academic libraries the opportunity to reach new readers, promote library resources in new ways, and build a feeling of community on campus. Here, Martin Goldberg looks at the opportunities to be found in library-sponsored campus book discussion groups.

Martin Goldberg is Head Librarian at the Beaver Campus of Penn State University, Monaca, PA. He has participated in many diversity-related committees in the university as well as in the American Library Association and the Association of College and Research Libraries. Marty's presentations and writings have focused on diversity-related issues, as well as Holocaust studies. Several of his articles have appeared in American Libraries.--Editor

Mirror, mirror, mirror on the wall, what's the greatest book club of all? Perhaps Snow White's stepmother, the nasty Queen, had a discussion group she regularly met with to talk about some terrific books, but many would say Oprah indeed has the best book club of all. The American Library Association went so far as to cite Winfrey: "Through her Book Club, [Winfrey] has done more to revitalize and promote the importance of reading among American citizens than any other public figure in recent times." (1) Bernard Schlink's novel The Reader was chosen as one of Oprah's picks. He wrote,

   The Oprah Book Club makes people read and that, I
   think, is a great thing. It is so great that I don't care too
   much about the criticism that I sometimes hear smart
   people raise in a smart way. I don't expect someone in
   Oprah's position to always pick great books. But as little
   as I can follow her selections, many of her books are
   really worthwhile and they are also books that make
   you want to read more. (2)

Book groups are a great activity for librarians--not only can librarians talk up their resources and collections, but many book groups will create book displays, offer advice on building library collections, grow into dedicated book borrowers, get active in friends-of-the-library clubs, and some may eventually become library donors. Hollands, in Fellowship in a Ring, wrote, "For a small investment of staff time and money, libraries gain much from book groups." (3)

Book discussion groups gained popularity in the late 1800s as women looked for intellectual opportunities and social interaction through study groups and culture clubs. McGinley and colleagues wrote that "such groups often provided women with a means to discover the eloquence of their voices and the strength of their convictions; and very quickly these literature study circles became a forum for addressing more public issues of progressive reform and democratic life." (4)

Book clubs come in all shapes and sizes (estimates run as high as 50,000 book clubs in Britain and a half-million in America) with a huge array of special reading interests. (5) More recently, One Book, One City reading campaigns have proved to be immensely popular in all sizes of cities, often having corporate sponsorship. While many book clubs meet only a few times, many others exist for years because of great book picks, interested readers, and effective discussion leaders. Some people feel they're too busy to read, but a book group gives them a focused need to complete a book or to read books they normally wouldn't think of. Others look at book groups as intellectual stimulation and social interaction. …

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