Community Library of Allegheny Valley clicks with readers with new Laid Back Book Club
By Julie Martin
Published: Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 9:03 p.m.
It's a novel idea, but also one that makes sense in the fast-paced age of social media. Since September, the Community Library of Allegheny Valley, Harrison branch, has been bringing a book club to anyone, anywhere, as long as they have an email address and can log on.
Its Laid Back Book Club is proving popular with patrons and staff, who credit its flexibility and accessibility for making book discussions possible.
“I think it's important for libraries to meet patrons where they are,” says Caitlin Bauer, adult programming specialist for the Library. “People are spending more and more time online, and they depend on social networking to connect with others. Starting an online book club was a way to reach out to library users who are plugged into technology this way.”
The premise is simple. The Laid Back Book Club is set up like a regular book club, except discussion takes place online, Bauer says. Each month, she says, she chooses a book for the club's readers and posts a summary, discussion questions, an excerpt and related articles.
Those interested in participating can pick up a copy of the book of the month at the library's circulation desk. Then, as they read, they can post thoughts and ideas about the book in the online discussion.
“There are no hard-and-fast deadlines or meetings to attend,” Bauer says.
“It's great to see continued participation throughout the month as our readers post their reactions to the book and respond to others' comments.”
“The Laid Back Book Club allows our patrons to ... participate at their own pace, on their own time.”
While many enjoy reading a good book and discussing details with others who have also read it, it's difficult, nearly impossible, for people to commit to monthly book-club meetings, according to Bauer.
Library director Kathy Firestone agrees, noting that in a book club she belongs to, meeting dates often have to be changed because of scheduling conflicts among members.
“The idea of the Laid Back Book Club, where discussion is just a click way, is really exciting to someone like me,” she says. “It just provides another avenue for reading and the exchange of ideas.”
With posts for each book available on the site, readers can jump in at any,time and pick up a conversation on one of the selections.
That's what Kathy Baird of Harrison did when she learned of the club. She was returning a book on a CD version of Jeanette Wall's “The Glass Castle,” which was September's selection.
“I'm new to the area, and this is a good way to share in a book club without having to be there, as my job takes me on weekly trips across the country. That would make it impossible for me to belong to a traditional book club.”
Baird says that one day, she'd like to see the members meet face to face. Until then, she and other participants are happy sharing their impressions and insights online.
The written format, Bauer says, allows readers to explain ideas in greater detail than they would be able to do in a traditional face-to-face discussion.
Bauer says, “We wanted to accommodate their schedules and make it easy for them to participate on their own time.”
While the program clicks with readers, the library still has plenty to offer those who prefer traditional discussions, like the library's historical book club and its newly formed contemporary-fiction book club.
“There will always be a place for traditional library services like face-to-face book clubs,” Bauer says. “Technology is not going to replace those interactions — instead, it will allow us to expand and serve our patrons in new ways.”
Julie Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
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