Monday, May 9, 2011

Book clubs in a box from the public library

This may be old hat in libraries across the country (actually, I think it's a several-years-old trend), but when I visited the Berkeley Public Library this past weekend I stumbled upon their "Book Club To Go" shelf for the first time. It's prominently featured in the five-story, Art Moderne library's main lobby. As near as I can tell it's a newish offering: the BPL Facebook page has an announcement about "Book Club To Go" dated from December of last year. The San Francisco Public Library has a similar program.

Each of Berkeley's "Book Club To Go" package includes eight copies of a book and a discussion guide, all handily packaged in a plastic bin. Like any other library resource, if someone else has the set o' books your group wants to read it's possible to see that it's checked out and to put a hold on the BCTG package via a quick visit to the library's web site. The packages are loaned for six weeks, and can be renewed for another three weeks if no one else has placed a hold in the meantime (normally the BPL loans books for three weeks, with an option to renew for another three).

There are 31 8-packs on offer at BPL currently, and one can see which are available (or place a hold if you have an account) by searching for Book Club To Go in the library catalog. It's a pretty good variety of work: from Homer's Odyssey (the Robert Fagles edition); to Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (which my book club read about four years back); to Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs. Virginia Woolf, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kiran Desai, Dave Eggers, Edwidge Danticat, Marilynne Robinson ... these are thoughtful picks, just as you would hope and expect of librarians in a bookish city like Berkeley.

Did I mention that Flavorwire declared the main branch of the Berkeley Public Library the most beautiful in the U.S. in November of last year?

It crosses my mind that publishers might get antsy about library-fueled book clubs. I mean, aren't those eight copies of a book that readers (probably) won't buy for themselves? I hope the industry doesn't take such a short-sighted view.

First, I can say from experience in my own book club that some people check books out from the library while others buy. Folks tend to do what they tend to do. There's just no accounting for habit. My partner and I participate in the same book group, so we often buy one copy and check out another from the library, especially if we want to read in parallel.

Second, book clubs are unlikely to live and die solely by the selections available at their local public library. Encourage a book club to establish itself and you're encouraging a community of consistent, engaged readers.

This is a very good thing, I'd say, not only for publishers but for the world at large.

Does your public library offer prêt-à-lire book club packages? Have you ever checked them out for your reading group?

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Speed dating for the bookish
Losing libraries (guest post)
Six things about e-books


  1. So have you taken advantage of 'em yet?

    The North & Claremont branches ran book discussion groups - and bought copies of a featured book for the use of the discussion group (I think the money came from the Friends of the Library, but I might be wrong) - once the discussion had happened we had these piles of books left over. What to do with them? Somebody had the clever idea to offer them boxed as instant book clubs. I don't know who. And I don't know how many popular they've been. Very, I hope.

  2. @Glenn -- thanks for the inside scoop!

    We haven't used them yet in my reading group. I mean, I just discovered them on Saturday. But the way we pick books doesn't lend itself (as it were) to advanced-planning very well: we 'negotiate' our next book at each meeting, which pretty much eliminates the possibility of checking out a box-o-books in advance for "next time" distribution.