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Guidelines for Establishing a Book Club: Five Basic Steps

Literacy underpins growth in various aspects of our lives and is central to our development as a nation. The creation of a reading culture therefore becomes one of the integral elements in our project of nation-building.

Book Clubs are one of the simplest and most practical mechanisms to encourage the culture of reading while at the same time playing a crucial role in promoting social cohesion.

The information provided on this page is to encourage and assist the various sectors of our society, including government departments, libraries and other relevant structures, to establish book clubs and to extend the book club phenomenon to their communities (i.e. places of residence).

Book Clubs are established with the purpose of creating interactive platforms where members share their reading experiences and encourage one another to read for pleasure.

The following paragraphs present Five Basic Steps as guidelines for the establishment and running of book clubs. Each situation is unique and the model that we present here is not cast in stone, but we hope that readers will take elements that they find useful for their specific purposes.

The Five Basic Steps are as follows:

Find Book Club Members

Book clubs provide an opportunity for readers to share information and the pleasure of reading. The main purpose of establishing book clubs is to encourage people to read and share information. One of the most critical steps in establishing a book club is identifying people who are already passionate readers. You must try and get more information about their reading interests, including the frequency of their reading and the type of books they read. Readers are usually receptive when someone shows interest in what they read and are often keen to share their reading experiences. If you have about six people who read regularly you have the basis for forming a book club. These individuals will form the Core Group of your book club.

Once you are able to get your core group together, the next step would be for them to encourage their relatives, friends or colleagues to start reading for pleasure. One way to do this is to make books a familiar and attractive object in your institution. What usually happens is that if a visitor finds a book lying around they will pick it up and start browsing. This is the best way to get people hooked and we encourage that books are put in visible places where they are noticeable (and not just in the library, study or bedroom).

Allow trusted colleagues, friends and family to borrow the book but give them time-frames to return them. When they return the book after reading chances are that they will share their impressions of the book. Listen carefully and identify aspects that seem to appeal to them the most. Recommend an author whom you believe they will find interesting. Now you have potential members for your book club and the next step would be to expand the group.

Elect a Committee

Committees usually intimidate people and some may be discouraged from participating. It is not advisable to elect a committee from the onset. Once you have a sizeable number of dedicated members, it is only then that you should consider electing a committee. It is important to stress that the committee is a central structure and that all book club members must be willing to assist especially ahead of major events.

A book club committee does not need to be comprised of too many members. A Convener or Chairperson, the Coordinator and the Secretary will be enough to form the Book Club committee. The Chairperson plays a strategic role and presides over all book club matters. The Coordinator is responsible for the daily running of the Book Club and must takeover when the chairperson is not available. The secretary performs all clerical and administrative duties and keeps record of all the activities including the borrowed books. These three portfolios are essential to run the book club and others may be established as the need arises. We must stress that people who serve in the book club committee are individuals with genuine interest in reading and must be reliable.

One of the first duties of the committee will be to set up what we call “Ground Rules” as opposed to a constitution. To paraphrase Es’kia Mphahlele, a constitution has a tendency to weigh down on the book club and frustrate progress owing to the countless, often sterile debates over clauses members call in to question. These ground rules must enhance the running of the book club and basic issues like loan periods. It is the duty of the secretary to keep record of loans and follow up with members when a book is overdue. The committee in consultation with the book club membership will decide on the “Book of the Month”, who should be the facilitator and when to have book discussions.

It is usually exciting when Book Club members are involved in selecting the books and this ensures their active participation in the discussion.

 

Choose Books

As indicated earlier, the choice of books is determined first, by the interest of the core group. In other words, you identify the commonality in the books that are read by the founding group. Examples could be whether the founding members are interested in biographies, fiction, non-fiction or poetry.

The first books that you stock would be a combination of classics and the latest publications in the genre. From there you can add a variety of books, including new genres that some members were not exposed to before. Book retail shops, newspaper reviews, Radio and TV shows are useful resources to identify latest publications. Recent publications usually appeal more to new readers as they are in the public eye due to advertisements and reviews in the media.

It is however important to note that a popular text does not always translate to a good book. This is the reason why it is advisable to combine new publications with classics in your reading list. We encourage Book Clubs to select primarily South African books in this process. South Africa has abundance of literary talent and there is a plethora of writers to choose from.

The choice of books for discussion can be determined by a number of factors, including the annual calendar. For example, in June you can celebrate Youth Month by discussing a book by young authors such as K. Sello Duiker, Kopano Matlwa or John Van De Ruit and in August you can celebrate Women’s Month by reading works by some prominent women writers such as Miriam Tlali, Zoë Wicomb or Nadine Gordimer.

 

Generate a Calendar

It is important that you decide on a reasonable time for everyone to meet. In a work environment, it is advisable that you do not meet more than once a week for book discussions. The calendar must be developed for at least the following six months and circulated to all members of the book club. Certain adjustments will be made when necessary during the course of the year.

You must allow time for members to read and finish the books so that they are fully prepared to engage in discussions. You must agree on the best time to meet. It is important that you choose time that will be convenient for the most members of the book club without compromising their core duties at work. It is preferable that you remain consistent in your meeting days and time.

The frequency of meetings is also very important. You must not overwhelm members with regular meetings. Book club discussions must remain exciting and all members should look forward to these interactions and this will not be achieved if your meetings are too frequent.

We recommend that in the work place you do not meet more than twice a month. A few members can always meet and discuss specific issues especially in preparation for a session.

 

Host Discussions

The most exciting moment in any book club is hosting discussions and this comes with a lot of anxiety. To minimise such feelings, it is important that you delegate duties to the various members in preparation for the session and ensure that everyone reads the book.

The key ingredient to hosting a successful book club discussion is reading and this is one of the reasons why you have to agree on the calendar in advance. You must also agree on the lead discussant or facilitator of the discussion.

The facilitation of book club discussions is not the responsibility of certain members. The duty of the facilitator is to ensure an interactive discussion. In doing so, they must try to create a friendly atmosphere to encourage everyone to participate without feeling intimidated. All members must be aware that they will be required to facilitate discussions at some point.

The facilitator can either volunteer or be elected to do so by the book club. It is however important that you rotate facilitators. The facilitator must be someone who has read the book thoroughly. In preparation for the session they must do further research about the subject, including biographical information of the author, other publications by the same author and reviews of the book being discussed.

The facilitator must be informed at least three weeks before the discussion so that they can make extra effort to prepare for the discussion. It is advisable that the facilitator writes down about ten questions or so in preparation for the discussion. Erin Collazo Miller, who has written extensively about leading book club discussions, recommends that the facilitator writes down important page numbers. For more information about preparing for facilitating a book club discussion please visit: http://bestseller. about.com/od/bookclubresources/

Even though there may be a facilitator, it is important to have a backup facilitator for in case there is an emergency and the appointed facilitator is unable attend the session. The rest of the members, especially the chairperson, must be equally prepared to facilitate the discussion at any given moment. A small group may have what is normally referred to as a “dry-run”, where they discuss the book and approaches to facilitating the book club discussion session.


Source: Department of Arts and Culture (http://www.dac.gov.za/sites/default/files/DAC_Book%20club.pdf)

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