Book Buzz: Online 24/7: Virtual Reading Clubs and What We've Learned about Them

By AuYeung, Catherine; Dalton, Sheila et al. | Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Book Buzz: Online 24/7: Virtual Reading Clubs and What We've Learned about Them


AuYeung, Catherine, Dalton, Sheila, Gornall, Sandra, Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research


Abstract

This presentation, originally given at the Ontario Library Association 2007 SuperConference, was based on our experience at Toronto Public Library in developing the online book club site, Book Buzz. We have described our actual experience and what we have learned from it that may be useful for other start-ups. The presentation has been adapted here for a reading audience.

Taking part in the presentation were a manager, an electronic services specialist, and a moderator - all librarians. We covered the project's planning stages, the design phase, and, lastly, what is involved in the day-to-day running of the book club.

Keywords: Library and information studies; readers advisory; book clubs; online book clubs

The Planning Stage

Our goal was to start a book club that would attract active, engaged adults under fifty. To do that, we needed to avoid current book club stereotypes.

Statistics, taken from a 2005 survey of the fifty or so book clubs in the Toronto Public Library system at the time, show that club members were almost exclusively women, a large percentage of them retired and/or over sixty-five.

However, we knew that, outside libraries, book clubs for younger readers were thriving. We had heard about reading clubs for young mothers, or ones strictly for singles. There were even men's book discussion groups that held meetings in bars. Popular magazines such as Flare and Chatelaine had their own online books clubs that were popular and active. We wanted to meet the needs of some of these younger readers.

An online book club seemed a natural for busy young parents, or working men and women who loved reading, but could not spare the time to go out to book club meetings. It would also appeal to a younger demographic simply by being part of the online environment.

Our next step was to research existing online book clubs. Early in 2004, we conducted an environmental scan of forty of the major public libraries in North America. At that time, most libraries did not have their own online clubs, but subscribed instead to the dearreader.com service. We looked at this service ourselves but found it expensive and lacking in Canadian content.

We registered with the six library online book clubs listed above, and drew conclusions from direct experience. A number of them were listservs. We had several issues with this format. The discussion was carried on away from the library website, with no linkage to the library. Another important concern was that listservs were already old technology. We wanted to take advantage of new and more recent technological advances.

All the book clubs we examined suffered from "not enough": not enough traffic, not enough staff resources, and not enough marketing. Looking at these sites did not provide great motivation to start our own. At the time, we did not find any that were really successful.

Our next stop was commercial sites run by institutions. Perhaps we would find inspiration there.

The New York Times forum was very active, with more than 200 postings every month. The facilitator was the resident critic at the New York Times Review of Books, who regularly posted a weighty analysis of some aspect of the book to stimulate discussion.

Abe Books, a network of independent booksellers, offers a fairly active discussion alongside a community forum that includes everything from book swaps to movies. The site sells books, facilitates book exchanges, offers some readers' advisory, and provides access to a chat room. It also holds occasional contests with modest giveaways such as book bags and mugs.

Oprah's book club had interesting content, but we knew its success was due mainly to the fame and visibility of its celebrity moderator - not something we could duplicate!

As a result of our assessment, we decided that to create a successful online book club we would need to combine some of the best features of virtual and in-person clubs. …

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