Tuesday, June 28, 2005

One Book, One Community: A Look at the Future of This Growing Trend

This report is a little longer than I like but there is a lot of practical advice included.

Nanette Alleman of Chicago Public Library
shared very practical advice about the creation and management of community-wide reading programs, such as the One Book, One Chicago, as the first presenter at the ALA program One Book, One Community: A Look at the Future of This Growing Trend. Chicago Public has kept its publicity fresh, she said, by adding a new twist to each program. It tries new promotions, new partnerships, and varies the look of the guides. The library recorded one book in Spanish, and for another book it partnered with a theater group to create an adaptation. Alleman said it is important not to fall into ruts.

She said choosing a great book is essential. The writing should excel and the book should not be excessively long. A book that interests teens is a plus, and each book should be different from the previous book to draw new readers to the program.

Events are an important part of a community reading program. Bookstores, businesses and cultural institutions have sponsored Chicago’s programs, which have included readings by actors, slide shows and lectures on topics appropriate to the books, author talks, sending authors into schools, and even semester long courses for credit at DePaul University.

Alleman said it is important to choose the book with a long lead time for planning and arrangements. Once a book is chosen for Chicago, Mayor Daley announces it. Every one on the library’s “one book” email list gets a message.

Russell Perrault of Random House said that almost any publisher would be pleased to work with a library on a community reading program for good reason – it sells books. 20,000 copies of the Oxbow Incident were sold in Chicago right after it was announced as the chosen book. In Philadelphia a forgotten book by a local author sold 48,000 copies after being chosen.

Working with a publisher has advantages, especially providing a contact with the author. The publisher can also provide study guides and may even help design brochures and advertising.

Perrault recommended shorter books that would appeal to teens when possible. He also thought one of the best publicity vehicles that he has seen were paper tray liners at McDonalds.

Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong and Eventide, was the third speaker. He began by saying he loved his local library in rural Nebraska as a child, where he read every western novel and cowboy history in the collection. He is impressed with the efforts of librarians to promote books through community reading programs. He has taken part in 15 book programs, including one for the state of Arizona.

The author recommended chosing well written books that are available in various formats (large print, audio) with living authors who can come. He also said that it helps to choose books that “stir people up,” as they lead to the best discussions. He believes that reading programs help communities discover themselves through discussions.

Haruf recommended that librarians know what they wish authors to do before they contact them. On one occasion he became involved with a program were the role he was asked to play kept changing. This is not fair to the authors who are in many cases volunteering their time. Do not expect authors to just volunteer. Some do want to be paid.

He has found participating in the programs very rewarding and has enjoyed meeting his readers.

Juli Janovicz of the Winnetka-Northfield Public Library (Illinois) told about the successful program at her library serving two small suburbs. Her library received a grant for its first program and paid for two more with supports from libraries friends, community donations, business sponsors, and partnering institutions. She said she is sure that the good feeling generated by getting out into the community to support the reading program carried over to passing a referendum.

Winnetka-Northfield chooses two books for each program, one for adults and one for children. One of the most successful events was a brunch with an author.

David Stone of the National Endowment for the Arts announced that his agency will be offering ten $30,000 grants for community reading programs for 2006. Details for this three year effort should be announced formerly soon. In the first year, only single city programs will be funded. In year two, the agency expects to offer 100 grants (smaller amounts) and will consider regional and state programs. In the third year, it hopes to offer 1000 grants.

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