September 26, 2017

Book club “speed dating”

Singles will tell you: dating is the worst. Playing “matchmaker” between individual readers and their next great book is the exception. While many libraries host “blind date” book events (pairing individual readers with a “mystery read” wrapped in paper, labelled with just a few descriptors), a variation I like for book clubs is more like “speed dating.”

The basic concept behind “book club speed dating” is to create appealing, quick, book club-centric pitches that boost reader engagement by giving them choices. As librarians, we usually DO have particular reasons why we pick one book club option over another -- but we seldom share them explicitly with the group. Ironically, however, we know that great RA is based on exactly those kind of authentic reader-to-reader recommendations.

Enter “speed dating” tactics for your book club! What you do can be as simple or complex as you choose. Based on your book club organizing “style” (and available resources), you can combine, modify, and adapt the suggestions below. Of course, we’d love to hear about your book club’s “speed dating” experiments!

  • Ease into speed dating by plugging in alternates for a couple of titles already on your schedule (perhaps later in the year). Write a little blurb about the two “contenders” - you can have a little fun with it, and write it up like a dating profile. Post the descriptions on your library’s website, along with a survey inviting book club participants to vote for their preferred choice. Be sure to include a closing date for votes, and send out an announcement of the winner in time to secure the copies your library will need. Is low-tech more your style? Set up a physical display of the titles with their “profiles” printed out, and use a ballot box for book club-goers to cast their votes. (TIP: If you have LibraryAware, the Like-Try-Why template is a handy way to make flyers promoting the options.)
  • Invite staff and readers to a “book club speed dating” meet-and-greet. Participants will nominate books, and prepare a short light-hearted "dating profile” of the book they want to recommend. During the meet-and-greet, pair participants up. Provide everyone with voting sheets that list all the titles (and a little space for notes, if you like). Using a timer, give each pair a set amount of time to share their book “profiles” with one another. Make sure each person gets equal time to talk about their book (if you have lots of participants, they may get just a few minutes). At the end, partners should label their top three choice in order (1st, 2nd, 3rd) on their voting sheets. Tally the votes, announce the winners, and set up the schedule.
  • Make title selection part of the group dynamic without sacrificing structure. Ask book club participants to bring in two books they want to recommend to the group, and to be ready to give “profiles” of each (2 minutes tops). Their “pitches” can all be done at one meeting, or spaced throughout the schedule depending on the size of your group/frequency of attendance, etc. For each person, the group picks one title. Voilà, the group’s schedule is complete, everyone has at least some buy-in on each title’s discussion -- and even you might meet some new books you’ll love.

Want to read more about running book clubs at your library? Check out "Book clubs for all kinds of lives" and "Build a better book club: Conversation starters," or print out some tips for using NoveList to find book club helpers

A long-time genre fiction expert, Readers Advisory Librarian Kimberly Burton creates NoveList content for adult readers and the librarians who love them. Librarians: For RA tips, resources, and book club best bets, sign up for Club Scene emails from the NoveList Book Squad.

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