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Monday, November 20, 2017

Guest Post: Lisa on Hosting an Adult Book Talk Program

A few weeks ago my colleague Lisa Meierkort mentioned to me that she started doing prepared book talks for adults and they were a huge hit. I asked her to share her experiences with all of you.

Thanks Lisa.

But before we get to her post, if you have something you do at your library to serve leisure readers, something you think others could learn from, contact me. Maybe you’ll be contributing the next guest post.


I am so flattered that Becky asked me to write a guest post! I worked with Becky years ago for a few months when I covered a maternity leave at the Berwyn library. I must say, seeing all that Berwyn did with Readers’ Advisory inspired me to do more. RA has really become my niche in my current job at the Frankfort [IL] Public Library District.

In May 2016, I gave a short presentation during our staff in-service about RA and how staff at all levels could be involved. Using the talents of our on-staff graphic designer, we created a display using staff photos, descriptions of what they each like to read, and their favorite books. I leveraged this into a bi-monthly RA e-newsletter for our patrons, in which one staff member and their picks are highlighted.

I am grateful to work at a library that allows for plenty of professional development opportunities. I was able to attend Library Journal’s Day of Dialog when it was in Chicago in 2016 and really enjoyed it. The 2017 Day of Dialog took place in New York and the entire event was livestreamed. After a discussion with my department head, we decided to use the 2017 DoD as the basis for a booktalk presentation at the library.

At the Frankfort Public Library District, we have four in-house book discussions run by librarians, as well as around a dozen community book clubs that order their discussion books through us. We decided that gearing the booktalks for book club members would be a great outreach opportunity. We titled it Book Club Booktalks, and I had my work cut out for me.

I began by watching the livestream (and then the archive) of the Day of Dialog. Many of the books highlighted were not yet published and sounded like they would be great for group discussions. Part of what I love about the Day of Dialog is hearing the authors themselves discuss their own books. This event introduced me to the majority of the books I talked about.

As preparation continued, I attended two free Booklist-sponsored webinars that focused on titles appropriate for book clubs. One of the webinars focused more on slightly older and backlist titles, but they were both informative. Additionally, ALA Annual occurred during this time, so a colleague brought me booklets and printouts highlighting titles that publishers thought were good for discussion.

Using all of these resources, I narrowed down my list to 27 titles. Most were not yet published when my planning began, but many came out in the months surrounding my event. Once the selections were made, I began to work on my talk. I created a Google Slide presentation with basic information about each book and a picture of the cover. I edited publisher blurbs down to 2-3 sentences so that each book would have a description on its slide.

My suggestion is to write both the blurbs for the slides and for what you are actually going to say at the same time. I made the mistake of not doing this and found it more difficult to do later. Furthermore, I divided the books up by genre: non-fiction and memoir, historical fiction, speculative fiction (explaining what that term means), thrillers, and contemporary fiction. 

Once the books were chosen, I contacted publishers for ARCs and swag to give away. Most publisher representatives were very accommodating and helpful. I explained to each what I was doing, how many people were expected, and which of their titles I planned to highlight. Some sent multiple boxes and they all arrived in plenty of time. We actually had a concern regarding storage space in the library!

As part of the presentation, a handful of slides were added for other resources that book club members could use in the future. These included ALA’s Book Club Central, Library Reads, and Novelist, as well as some library-specific resources. In addition to our social media (Facebook and Instagram), we have a couple of resources on our website that people can use. We have a Get Recommendations page, on which patrons can choose a librarian and fill out an RA form that goes directly to that librarian for personalized suggestions.

Additionally, we have Staff Picks and New Materials pages on our website that I update monthly. Finally, I pointed them to the e-newsletter that I mentioned earlier. We do not segment our various newsletters; once patrons sign up, they get updates about upcoming events in all departments, as well as the RA newsletter that I curate.

As the event came closer, our Circulation staff placed holds on two copies of each title that had been published so far. This way, if free copies of a particular book were not available, attendees could still check it out from the library. However, there was a concern: if all of the highlighted titles were new or upcoming, book clubs would have a harder time getting a sufficient amount of copies in a timely manner for their discussions. Therefore, I decided to expand my suggestions and include read-alikes, grouped by matching the genre and theme. I included both recent and classic titles, depending on what felt appropriate. 

In the days before the event, I went through our stacks and pulled every read-alike that we had on shelf, ending up with approximately 50 books. While it seemed like a good idea, it was a lot of work for only a couple of books that were actually checked out, and I would not necessarily recommend doing this.

I practiced my presentation multiple times in our meeting rooms. While I did not have all 27 memorized, having my speech in bullet points and going through the presentation a few times with the microphone and slides helped me to get more comfortable.

The day of the event, I went shopping for refreshments and spent a few hours setting up. In addition to the refreshments, I set all of the books out - between ARCs and library copies, there were probably 400-500 books.

The event itself went very well. My colleague checked people in as they arrived, while I gave them a copy of the slides and a rundown of what to expect for the evening. (You’re welcome to look, but don’t take any books until the end!) We had 51 people in attendance! After my 40 minute presentation, I answered questions and raffled off some of the ARCs. Once everyone had one book in-hand, I thanked them for coming and asked them to help themselves to what remained.

Everyone seemed very pleased and they all went home with multiple books. A couple of weeks later, a board member who had attended told our Director that it was the best program she’s been to! Very high praise that I deeply appreciate. Also, we had multiple people who were not in attendance ask for copies of the presentation, so we printed them out until another colleague used the content of my slides to create an RA brochure.

Hopefully I’ve explained my process well enough that you can adapt it for your own use. I’m happy to answer any questions that may come up!

Lisa Moe Meierkort
Adult Services Librarian
Frankfort Public Library District

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