Looking for a way to highlight your collection, increase circulation, put your expert knowledge of children’s literature to great use, and remind your users that the library is the beating, pulsing heart of your community? It may be as simple as a few duplicate copies, a handout of discussion questions, and a quiet corner for groups to meet.
Launched last fall, Kids Book Club Kits have been an extremely popular (and easy to manage) new service at my library. The kits are designed to make patron-led book discussion groups fun and easy. Each kit contains several copies of a librarian-selected title, a book summary, discussion starters and questions, further resources such as websites or extended reading opportunities, and suggested activities related to the book’s themes. In addition to the kits themselves, parents who register with the Children’s Library are also given the opportunity to reserve a meeting space to host their discussion group.
Choosing the Books
We began by surveying our Kids Fiction and Kids IRead (chapter book) collections, noting the titles we owned in multiple. We decided to start by choosing ten titles for early elementary (grades 1 to 3) and ten titles for older elementary (grades 4 to 6.) In addition to being available in duplicate, we looked for books that were exciting, highly discussable, slightly off-the-radar, and that naturally lent themselves to extended activities. It helped that we booktalk new titles each spring to our local elementary schools and purchase multiple copies of those titles. As a result, after a few years, we are able to go back and resurrect these great books as Book Club Kits.
Writing the Content
The most time-intensive aspect of launching the Book Club Kits service was researching and preparing the handouts. We decided to make a template consisting of a picture of the book cover, a brief summary, 1 or 2 discussion starters (or icebreakers), 4 to 6 discussion questions, a list of further resources (often consisting of the author’s website or related material), and an activity related to the themes or characters. As an example, check out The Year the Swallows Came Early Kit.
While getting the discussion questions together took some time and consideration, it was one of the most enjoyable in the process. The entire children’s staff, including our summer intern, was encouraged to participate by reading and re-reading the selected books and thinking of great questions and activities to add to the handout. When stumped, we were often able to find questions and discussion starters from several publisher websites. Although we decided to create our own templates, libraries could just as easily print out discussion guides straight from the publishers.
Kits and Meeting Spaces
Once we had our 20 initial kits ready to go, we had to figure out how we would store them and how patrons would check them out. We decided, after a bit of trial and error, to keep the kits (the duplicate copies and the handout(s) in a library bag) in our storage area. Patrons wishing to start their own book clubs are able to checkout the number of copies they require (we stock each kit with at least 6 copies) and a discussion handout. They are also encouraged to reserve a meeting space. In order to accommodate our Book Club Kit users, we have several evenings per week that are reserved for book discussion groups. We make sure that our programming space is open and available during these times. To keep chaos to a minimum, we ask that every patron-led book club using the Children’s Library to meet has a designated adult group leader. This is typically a mom or dad who takes responsibility for both the materials and the children using the space. Book Club Kit users may take advantage of the meeting space registration, or opt to simply check out the kit and host the group at their home.
Keeping it Fresh
Now that we’ve established a loyal group of kids and parents who use this new service, we add ‘new’ titles each year to keep the selections fresh. Sometimes we select slightly older books (including titles we have booktalked in the past) and resurrect them as Book Kits. Other times we look into which titles are newly available in paperback. For minimal cost, we can purchase six brand-new paperbacks and created a rather spiffy-looking kit.
At any given time, several of our kits are checked out. Parents and kids return eager to check out more and hear about the newly added titles. We like to hear about what books they’ve read recently and what titles they’d like to see added to the list. It’s an ever-evolving service. So far, we have yet to add an eBook kit. But we’ve been brainstorming….