The content of this section has been previously published, but reframed here for this context. (cf. Bull & Jacobsen Kiciman, 2018).

These are the high-level takeaways that we learned through piloting our book club.  Each is discussed below.

  1. Empower Students
  2. Relevance for Academic Libraries
  3. Simplify the Process
  4. Gauging Demand
  5. Marketing, marketing, marketing


Give as much power to your students as you can

We believe that the sharing and cultivating of knowledge and experience is activism, and moves towards social justice. As such, decentering decisions from the organizers and into the hands of the participants is an important part of our pedagogy.

Despite marketing primarily to undergraduate students, we saw a high rate of interest from staff and faculty. Given our stated goals, however, we wanted to keep the focus on students and student voices. We thus gave the students the choice if they wanted to include staff and faculty in the discussion. They discussed and decided that they wanted to include everyone in the conversation. Students informally mentioned that they appreciated being given the choice.

Students were also given a short list of options for the following quarter’s iteration of the book club, letting them vote on what title and theme they would like the book club to address next. We made it clear that they were not being asked to commit to participating again by voting.  Rather, their needs are shaping the direction the book club takes as it moves forward.

Relevance to Academic Libraries

The benefits for students and librarians are twofold. First, these conversations that are not tied to assignments and extant power structures allows for the fostering of genuine relationships. This, we hope, may result in reduced library anxiety and encourage students to feel more comfortable using other library services. Second, engaging in dialogue and understanding the concerns and experiences being had by members of the community allows for greater mutual empathy.

However, in creating a book club grounded in principles of social justice, it is our hope that we create and foster a space for hard conversations to be happening through the lens of literature, and giving people to synthesize and respond. The energy, enthusiasm and honesty brought to the book club discussions was remarkable.

Keep it simple

In order to attract busy students to an extracurricular, we created multiple incentives — movie tickets, food, author skype call, and free books.  And yet it proved difficult to get students to claim movie tickets. However, one of the students to fill out the satisfaction survey felt that these perks were important, noting that  “[a]ll the resources and perks were greatly appreciated and kept me motivated to stay involved to be part of the good discussions….”

The questions we used for facilitating each discussion were based on the promotional material distributed by the publisher.  Very much grounded in the literature, the questions assumed that participants had read the relevant portions of the ntext. We quickly realized that keeping the questions general enough was key for promoting inclusive dialogue. This allowed participants who had not completed all the reading to participate as well. Thus, questions framed as follows created a more lively dialogue: “how does this character define community — and how do you define community?” Questions that were too specific, or too literary in nature, resulted in more silence.

There is a demand

Participants framed their interest in terms of having the space and time to have discussions about current events impacting their lives.  One student said that participation in Real Lit would allow for “discussions about discrimination, a prominent topic in today’s society, and hear the opinions of my peers.” Another underscored that at the forefront of their mind was “understanding of issues among poc [persons of color] and intersectionality within different communities” and that reading a novel on school time was an additional perk.


In our own pilot, we found that participants each mentioned a different marketing tool when asked how they had learned about the book club.  Our takeaway is to stress the importance of a multi-pronged marketing and communication strategy to reach the broadest audience possible. In what follows, we highlight strengths and weaknesses of each tool.

Campus Television:  There is a centralized advertising service on our campus that streams advertisements for events, programs, and other campus news across several flat-screen televisions that are in key buildings on campus (including the library). We used the campus television screens to inform campus about the book club in the weeks leading up to the first meeting. We also advertised the skype conversation.

  • Strength: Visually appealing; reaches interdisciplinary audience
  • Weakness: No way of knowing if people are seeing it; low engagement factor

Campus Listserv: There are several relevant campus email listservs that target different audiences: the whole campus, faculty, staff.  On our campus, faculty especially appreciate the listserv as a way to understand what is happening on campus.

  • Strength: Reaches faculty
  • Weakness:  Clunky interface; readers of the digest have to click on an attachment to view message.

Bulletin Boards: There are 22 bulletin boards across campus buildings that allow cross- or interdepartmental postings.

  • Strength: Good way to reach students, especially in the student dormitory on campus
  • Weakness: High time commitment to walk across campus; ecologically unfriendly; bears some printing costs

Social Media: The UW Tacoma library runs a blog, and has a Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram account.  We utilized all four online social media platforms with messaging dependent on platform and audience.

  • Strength: Easy, low-cost way to reach a broad audience
  • Weakness: Efficacy depends on how engaged the community is with social media to begin with

Other: Word of mouth is an important tool to promote events, at least at UW Tacoma.  We were able to increase attendance the day of the skype conversation by talking with students at library service points.

  • Strength: Direct engagement with stakeholders
  • Weakness:   Does not reach the entire campus; must be used in combination with other marketing channels


At your library and campus:

How does your campus communicate with its stakeholders? Consider the importance of word of mouth communication as well, and use time at a public service point to promote the programming.



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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.

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