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Book Club Guidelines and Best Practices

Plan ahead for group consensus and success...

Organization

Will you chose a facilitator? If so, how – by vote? What are the facilitator’s responsibilities? Some facilitators just lead the discussion. Other tasks may include insuring that advance planning is done or directing discussion to pause and encourage those who have not had an opportunity to contribute. Should the facilitator be encouraged to tactfully direct discussion away from dominators?

If you have a facilitator, will the position rotate and/or have a limited length of term served?

Group Size

Do you prefer larger or smaller groups?

Open/Closed: Will you have a maximum membership size? Some feel that group discussion with six to eight is ideal. Yet, having a bit larger “roster” is often needed to consistently see that level of attendance due to schedule conflicts and the unforeseen complications of life in general. Others, find that “the larger the group, the more interesting the gathering becomes.” On the other hand, some find 4-6 more intimate and satisfying. With smaller groups, are first-time visitors welcome, or is advance notice desired? Another approach is to just to let group size become self-determining.

If your group is open to visitors who are looking for a book club to join, you are welcome to have your club listed along with the others in our library district that are currently active. Please visit our Listing of Book Clubs. Contact our Website Manager, Michelle Vigil to get added to list.

Scheduling

Will you always meet at the same time (night, during the day, on weekends)?

Will you meet monthly, bi-monthly, or might this depend on variables such as book size?

Will you have a meeting length target?

Will you take a break for the summer, or over the year-end holidays?

Meeting Location

Will you meet at someone's home, in a church, at a restaurant or meeting hall?

Will meeting locations change or rotate? Some find that picking a date/location and sticking with it is important. Or, mix it up: 2nd Thursday of the month, always rotating the home. Others find that hosts should be free to trade dates with each other, but no more. Drawn-out email threads over switching dates are often discouraged: “If someone can’t make it for a given date, so be it.”

Meeting Structure

Will there be an informal time around food/snacks before or after so that one can come and go early or late and not miss the critical book discussion?

Will the meeting include or focus on pre-arranged discussion questions, and/or a study guide? If so, will responsibility for providing them rotate? Will this be provided prior to the discussion? If so, how far in advance? (One advantage of planned discussion questions is that they can help keep the conversation from so easily going off-topic – a circumstance that can be seen as both embarrassing and humorous.) If questions are used, will they be prioritized in case there isn’t time for all?

Will the formal meeting start or end with unstructured discussion?

Book Selection

(Ask your library for suggestions and/or help in providing books and related films. Your library makes meeting rooms available as well as a theater you could use for book-themed films.)

Who picks each book (individuals, by vote, or…)? (One advantage of voting is that, if it turns out to be a dud, frustration is less common.) On the other hand, some have a rule that the person hosting the group gets to choose the book.

How far in advance will selections be made?

Will you have multiple books selected ahead or just one at a time? How far in advance; 3 months out, or … ?

Do you want to sustain a particular genre emphasis? How theme-centered do you want to be? Should selections be secular, or religious, or should some themes be avoided? Would it help to agree on a specific genre for a season such history, biography, mystery, romance, or something else?

Will you take advantage of library resource suggestions?

Do you select based on your favorites or what has worked well for other book clubs?

Choices can be influenced by unexpected criteria. Some groups try to pick books set in other countries so that they might have food theme options for their potluck – something as treasured as the discussion time.

Will you intentionally pick books that are available in paperback to avoid hardcover/hot title mark-ups? Doing so can also increase the likelihood of titles being more widely available (e.g., from your library).

Occasionally, titles from a past discussions become films. In this case, movie dates become an option with discussion to follow.

Free digital resources exist to help your club in its advance planning for many of the choices above. This can be as simple as creating a Yahoo or Google interactive page. There are apps and web sites available as well (see list at the end of this document).

Keep track of what you’ve been reading to notice patterns. Ask yourselves how diverse you want your selections to be as you look back. Some feel that designed-in diversity makes things more interesting.

Watch your library’s events calendar for advance ideas from author visits they are planning for later in the year. If there is interest among your membership, maybe the author could meet with your group as well.

Purpose

Over time, people may want to attend simply to enjoy your company. Do you mind people coming when they don't actually bother reading the book? It may help to be up-front about your expectations. There are some who tend to avoid book clubs for this reason. For them, serious discussion, commitment and strong participation are weakened by disengaged bystanders – especially when these people get caught up in passionate discussion, contributing little or even breaking up the flow after having made no investment.

Additional resources and information:

Goodreads

American Library Association

Iowa Center for the Books

Reading Group Guidelines

I Love Libraries

Bookster Club