Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Start a Nonfiction Book Club

As a reference librarian I've been asked to host events for just about everything from building dedications to Victorian tea parties to murder mystery dinners. Believe me, over the years I've seen and done all types of programs. However, I've never had my own book club; that is until 2011.

At the end of 2010 I was asked to create a new nonfiction book club. It sounded like a great opportunity to try something new. However, how does one go about creating a book club, especially one that focuses on nonfiction? I started by asking colleagues for advice. While many were moderators of book clubs, they had never actually started a new one; most had simply taken over an existing book club. So I started to search online and compiled some helpful hints to share with everyone interested in starting a nonfiction book club.
  1. Attend other book clubs. Since I probably hadn't been to a book discussion since college, I thought it best to first experience a book club from the viewpoint of a participant. Thus, I asked colleagues if I could attend their book clubs. Luckily, I was invited to three different clubs and even though they focus on fiction, each happened to be featuring a nonfiction book that month. Attending several different clubs allowed me to see the different styles of the leaders and the interactions of the groups.
  2. Visit Libraries. This allows you to see what's already being offered in your area. Librarians may have insights into what types of programs and books work and what don't. They may also have an idea of what has already been tried and what hasn't. Helpful Hint: Many libraries have Book Club resources and kits. The kits usually contain multiple copies of a book and discussion questions. Additionally, Book Club Kits can often be checked out for an extended loan periods; just ask your librarian to be sure.
  3. Choose a time for the new book club to meet. In my case, I had to consider how the group would be structured, and I didn't want to offer a program that coincided with another book club. Also, I had to choose a time and day that would be convenient for patrons. Plus, I was trying to fill a gap in programming. After looking at the other offerings, I decided that the group would meet quarterly in the evenings. Some groups meet bimonthly or even monthly, the choice is up to you.
  4. Choose a location. When you create a new group, you have to consider where to meet. This could be in a library meeting room or the church basement. If you are creating a neighborhood book club, the group might decide to meet in a different member's house every month. Be sure to select a room that fits the needs of your group. For example, if you have a small group, a large meeting room might be overwhelming.
  5. Select the books. There are so many choices here. One could easily go with a selection of Great Books. Another option would be to focus on true stories that have been turned into movies. Discussing books that have made the New York Times Bestsellers list was another suggestion. There is also the possibility of choosing a different theme each year. For example, my home library is focusing on the Civil War for 2012. Since my group was going to be meeting quarterly, I decided to give each quarter a theme. For 2011 my themes included: Winter = True Crime, Spring = Medical Mystery, Summer = Culinary Biography, and Fall= Hospice Care. Helpful Hint: Avoid books with strong political or religious views which might offend participants.
  6. Get the word out. Contact local newspapers, get free publicity, and invite people to join the group. Helpful Hint: When writing your press releases, don't forget to mention that the evening includes refreshments. Free food always boosts attendance.
Now that it's already 2012, I can't believe that my book club is starting its second year. We had lots of fun discussing the books and are looking forward to new themes. In fact, I just ordered the books for our February meeting.

So why not give it a try? Celebrate a love of nonfiction by sharing your interests and starting a new nonfiction book club. You don't need to be a librarian to have your own book club and you don't need a lot of money. Anyone with a love of books can organize a book club. Not only is it fun to do, it's also very rewarding. If you follow the advice above, your new book club will be enjoying nonfiction for years to come.

Still wondering what to do? Check out these resources:
  2. Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader's Guide by Ted Balcom. Paperback published by American Library Association in 1992. 67 p. ISBN: 978-0838934135
  3. LitLovers
  4. Reading Group Choices
  5. The Reader's Choice: 200 Book Club Favorites by Victoria Golden McMains. Paperback published by William Morrow in 2000. 288 p. ISBN: 978-0688174354

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