Saturday, November 17, 2012

RA in a day 2012: Online Book Clubs

The 7th annual "RA in a day" workshop for adult readers' advisory wrapped up recently. This year, we had a theme, which was "Reading Builds Community," and the day was once again hosted in the lovely Bram & Bluma Appel Salon of Toronto Reference Library.

As vice-chair of the hosting group, OPLA's Readers' Advisory Committee, I was fortunate to not only attend, but get to participate in planning and delivering the day's events. Over the coming week or so, I will share some notes from the sessions.

Today, we'll start with our first session, Online book clubs, with Sandra Martin from The Globe and Mail, and Margaret Elwood, the Book Buzz Librarian at Toronto Public Library.

Sandra Martin (standing) and Margaret Elwood.

Margaret spoke first about Book Buzz, TPL's virtual book club. She outlined some of the preliminary research done in an initial survey, showing that book club members are generally 98% female and 88% retired (therefore likely over the age of 65). Book Buzz was an attempt to attract active, engaged adults under fifty (via anonymous participation, no formal meetings), and avoid the book club stereotype. Current Book Buzz members (of which there are 1281) are 84% female and 64% are under the age of 50! There is still high interest in reading fiction, but also non-fiction, mystery, and biography. There is a moderate interest in sci-fi/fantasy, graphic books. The original Book Buzz researchers also looked into other active, successful online book groups, and found that successful ones had an active facilitator/moderator, so they made this a core focus of the site. Book Buzz currently uses Web Crossing software as a platform, but Web Crossing will soon be discontinued, and they will be moving to a social network type of site within the year.

Margaret spoke quite movingly about how the online book club forum broke down barriers: they had teens participating, and one deaf person. Book Buzz, she said, “places no constraints on accessibility.” She also discussed participation inequality at length – the idea that 1% of your participants will post regularly, but many others will find significant value in reading other people’s posts.

Sandra spoke about the Globe’s recent foray into online book clubs, calling 2012 “the year of living experientially” after she was asked to be the online book club facilitator. Sandra, a long-time book lover and member of the Quadrangle Society’s book club at Massey College, was approached by the Globe about an online book club. This was framed within attempts to “entice people to read the Globe online,” a “corporate imperative.” The online book club now uses to host the site. Interestingly, Sandra said that Globe staff thought people would want to read non-fiction rather than fiction (she credits this to journalistic bias!), but of course many book clubs are the opposite. So far, the book club has featured Half-blood blues by Esi Edugyan, Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat (in part because of the Canada Reads controversy), summer picks, and The casual vacancy by J. K. Rowling. Books are chosen by popular vote via a poll on the website. Sandra’s favourite aspect of an online book club is “feeling like I am in a really good conversation and knowing I don’t have to drive anyone home.”

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