Picking a Title

We explicitly picked a young adult (YA) title for this book club.  There were many reasons that contributed to this choice, but the main reason is that their reading level makes them more accessible.  Though we considered a few adult novels, we ultimately decided to stay with the choice of YA.

Autumn 2018 Pilot: The Hate U Give. Summary:  Angie Thomas’ NYTimes bestseller, The Hate U Give, looks at how the life of Starr Williams is upended after the death of her friend, Khalil, at the hands of a white police officer. We picked this title because of its currency — police violence against people of color in the United States — and because the nuanced way in which the author addresses people’s identity.

Winter 2019: The 57 Bus.  Summary: Dashka Slater’s award-winning book looks at the ways in which two teenagers’ lives intersected — how agendered Sasha was attacked by Richard, who then faced adult sentencing in a prison-industrial complex that is not infrequently racist and biased against people of color.

For the Winter Quarter, we wanted campus (and students in particular), to drive the selection process.  We gathered a list of six titles that discussed contemporary and current themes (e.g., Sexual Assault, LGBTQ issues, Muslim-American identity), and created a poll for current book club members to vote on.  We also promoted the poll via the Library’s blog.

At your library and campus:

Think about what titles might make sense on your campus. Are there courses being offered that could help scaffold the conversations happening? What are some of the current events or social injustices that are in the media? Also think strategically vis a vis a novel and its popularity.


Structuring the Meeting: Community Agreements

As part of our programming, we wanted to ensure an equitable space where every voice was respected.  To that end, we drafted community agreements that we shared with participants before the first meeting, and also read outloud when we met.  Students had the choice to add agreements or change them, but no one choose to alter them. Please find our community agreements included in the appendix.

Note: During our discussion, we raised the issue of “safe” versus “brave” spaces.[1]  Due to the sensitive nature of the conversation, we felt strongly about not promising a safe space.  Participants responded well to this notion.

At your library and campus:

What agreements make sense for your community? How might these be adjusted depending on the title you pick? (Note: for the second iteration of Real Lit, we picked a title about gender identity. We modified our community agreements and placed “Respect others’ pronouns” first on the list.



On our campus, we recently switched to a time schedule that allows for “community hour” from 12:30-1:30 with no classes scheduled at this time. The result of this schedule change has been that every department and club tries to schedule their meetings at this time. Additionally we have a large population of non-traditional students who work, have families, are in the military, etc. We have programs that meet entirely at night, or over the weekend, and we are a commuter campus with only a very small percentage of our students in on-campus housing. Scheduling any time means we are going to miss a large section of students.

For the pilot of this program, we chose to go with the community hour scheduling.


Structuring the Meeting: Land Acknowledgment

During our first meeting, we employed the practice recommended by LSPIRG and the Know the Land Territories Campaign.[2]  We noted that “we are on the traditional territories of the Puyallup and the Puget Sound Salish” and expressed thanks for being able to carry out our work on their lands.

This practice is becoming more and more current in the library world, a a way to recognize the history of colonialism and to create more equitable spaces.

At your library and campus:

What indigenous land is your campus on? Is acknowledging land a practice on your campus?


Structuring the Meetings: Pronouns

Library and Center for Equity and Inclusion staff modeled the importance of sharing pronoun preferences with participants.  Thus, an introduction looked something like this: “Hi, my name is Johanna, my pronouns are she/her, and I’m a librarian here at UW Tacoma. I’m interested in this book club because I want to create a space where difficult conversations about issues in our community can be shared.”

Modeling pronouns was an intentional practice repeated during each session to be inclusive and respectful of gender diverse and expansive identities.


Facilitating the Discussion

Facilitating a discussion is always a balancing act. It requires prompting participants in a way that encourages and engages them, but also does not push. It is largely a soft skill, one that requires intentionality, but also reliance of intuition and ability to react in the moment.

Despite this nature, we took some intentional steps towards a philosophy of facilitation. We were inspired by philosophies and toolkits such as Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance’s (AORTA) Anti-Oppression Facilitation for Democratic Processes guide, and Nina Simon’s OfByForAll philosophies. The AORTA facilitation process gave us guideposts for what type of space we wanted to create, but this guide is really intended for committee meetings. This meant that there were some sections that were less applicable to our setting, such as the bullet point noting that facilitators do not let any individual take the group off-topic or off-task.[3] As a coordinating team, we discussed this, and noted that this space was meant for discussion of tough, complex topics, and therefore we do not want to police if something is off-topic.

Having the shared foundation helped as discussions evolved. Knowing that our role is to promote space to engage shifted our focus from getting the participants to answer questions, to finding topics that rang true for participants. Rather than using the text as the point of discussion, we used it as our point of engagement with bigger topics. An example of this is taking a character and defining a concept from their point of view, and then asking the participants how they define this concept for themselves.

Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History’s Of/By/For All framework also gave us some guidance and structure in our approach to facilitating. Simply put, this framework states that if you want your programming to be for your community, it needs to be of and by said community.

“Putting up a “welcome” sign is not enough. To involve people in meaningful, sustainable ways, you can’t just make programs FOR them. You have to involve them in their creation.[4]

We used this framework to shape our facilitation by putting it in dialogue with the AORTA guide. We wanted the participants of the reading group to feel that this group was of them, and by them. By giving them space to define what they wanted to discuss, and to lead the conversations based on what they responded to, this gave them ownership.


Staff and Faculty? Student Choice

As discussed above, we saw more expressed interest by staff and faculty than we initially anticipated. Given the potential for conflict of interest (students in a voluntary club conversing with faculty from whom they were taking classes and getting evaluated by), we decided to invite only students to an initial orientation session, and ask them if they felt comfortable having faculty and staff join the discussion.

When asked, students expressed that having a breadth of voices present in the room was part of the reason they chose to participate in the book club to begin with.  We honored that choice, and invited interested faculty and staff to attend the next meeting.


Twitter Hashtag for Campus-wide discussion

We wanted to make sure that all of campus felt welcome in discussing the book choices with members of Real Lit[erature], even if they could not attend the discussion sessions. We created a twitter hashtag (#RealLitUWT), and regularly tweeted using the Library’s and the Center for Equity and Inclusion’s social media platforms to promote it.  Though we did not see any engagement using that hashtag, we think there is value in having a documented record of the Real Lit[erature] conversations.

  1. Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens, "From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice," in The Art of Effective Facilitation : Reflections from Social Justice Educators, ed. Lisa M. Landreman,(Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2013), 135-150.
  2. "Know the Land: Territories Campaign," LSPIRG: Creating Agents of Social Change, accessed Feb 1, 2019, http://www.lspirg.org/knowtheland/.
  3. “Anti-Oppression Facilitation Guide,” AORTA: Anti-Oppression Training and Resource Alliance, June 2017, accessed January 8, 2019. http://aorta.coop/portfolio_page/anti-oppressive-facilitation/.
  4. “Anti-Oppression Facilitation Guide,” AORTA: Anti-Oppression Training and Resource Alliance, June 2017, accessed January 8, 2019. http://aorta.coop/portfolio_page/anti-oppressive-facilitation/.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Book Clubs in Academic Libraries: A Case Study and Toolkit by Johanna Jacobsen Kiciman and Alaina C. Bull is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book