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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Stage a Discussion About “The Great American Novel” at your Library

Click here for the annotated list
With the popularity of the PBS series The Great American Read and all of the book conversation it has sparked, there has been a tangential discussion going on in book circles about the idea of “The Great American Novel.”

I think the week of Independence Day is a good time to bring this up both to discuss and because it makes a great interactive display.

What is “The Great American Novel?” There are many ways to look at this question. Lit Hub has had a quite a few pieces worth your time on the topic. Click here to see their coverage. Specifically they had this wonderful list of 9 Great American Novels by Authors Born in Other Countries, a list which includes one of my all time favorite novels, The Sympathizer.

The concept of "The Great American Novel" has long been a favorite topic for literary fodder. These are just recent examples. Let’s jump on the holiday and the PBS program and make this discussion interactive. As I have been posting for the last few months, your RA service needs to be more interactive. Click here to get up to speed on this concept.

So here is my suggestion to keep the Independence Day spirit going a bit longer. Why not put up a “Great American Novel Display?” Use the links I provided above to get it started, but then add an interactive element. Either ask people to find a title on the shelf and add it to the display or have slips of paper that people can write down their “GAN.” You can post them on a bulletin board or dry erase board or jut tape them to a wall or window or just collect them in a voting box. Seriously, no excuses. Everyone can figure out some way to get interactive here.

Here’s why this is such a great idea: not only does this interactive element allow your patrons to be a part of their service [again, click here to see why this is so important] but also, you get to see their opinion.  We want to serve all of our patrons well, but if we never ask them to tell us what they think, want, or like, how do we really know we are serving them as best as we can? Also seeing their votes allows us to also see where their personal gaps are. What books would they love if only they knew about them? It is a wonderful opportunity for us to improve our service to them.

We need to ask them to participate if ew want to reach our full potential. Many of them don’t think they are allowed to. We need to make is easy and clear that we want to know what they think.

Also this display has the added bonus of allowing you to stage another display-- one that takes into account all of the titles your patrons submitted. For example, if my library staged this display I would suggest a whole bunch of alternative history titles like Dread Nation or River of Teeth. These are books that may be set on a different time line than our real work, but both say a great deal about America. To me there are GAN’s, just slightly askew ones.

That’s just one example of the surprises you may receive. But no matter what happens, you will engage your patrons and learn more about what they are seeking.

Give it a try. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.

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