5 reasons why your library should offer online reading groups

Reading groups offered by libraries play an incredibly important role in supporting the library’s mission to improve reading and literacy.  A recent blog post by the Libraries Taskforce serves to highlight just how important they are.  

Based on research that was supported by the SCL and The Reading Agency, the authors of the blog write, “As shown in other studies, members were universally positive. They said that as well as heightening their enjoyment of reading, being a reading group member was good for their wellbeing.”  And that, “reading groups should be a central and integral part of any strategy for future development.”

Libraries are increasingly looking at ways to offer their services online, reflecting the changing way citizens access information, read, learn and interact.  With online reading groups becoming ever more popular, we’ve put together a few key reasons your library should offer them…

1. Help outreach

In the Libraries Taskforce’s first blog on the subject of reading groups from 2016, outreach was highlighted as one of the key strategies that libraries are using to develop their work around reading groups.  With more and more people accessing content on the internet, offering a digital platform for reading groups helps you reach and engage new audiences.  It’s a great opportunity to drive new memberships, aimed at those people for whom joining a reading group at their library may have been difficult or impossible.

“I think it’s not one of those things you can just sit in a library or a school and really deliver everything. If you’re passionate about engagement, I think the days of ‘you come to us’ are gone. I think we have to go out to them.” – Senior Librarian.

2. Provide greater choice

Online reading groups can be complementary to the library’s existing offline offer, by giving patrons the option to attend in person or online.  The reading group manager can simultaneously manage online and offline groups for the same book, if they wish.

Patrons could use the social features of an online group to discuss their book with other members from home, or to keep up with the discussion if they are on holiday.  By offering more choice you’re better able to serve the needs of the whole community and thus create a more user-centric literacy offer.

3. Be more flexible

With an online reading group linked to a flexible content model, like that offered by Axiell Bookclub, reading group managers have access to a range of new content at their fingertips and can choose to only pay for what they use.  This means you can offer the latest titles or introduce niche themes to your book club without a big upfront investment; you could even take requests from your patrons for the next book to read in the group!

4. Improve inclusivity

In a number of interviews with library staff and reading group managers, the reading groups blog notes, “we heard about the changing role of libraries and how reading groups were an important way of helping them to fulfil these new expectations to reach out to adults with differing backgrounds, interests and needs.”

Taking your most valuable services online is a great way to reach out to more people and make your services more accessible, particularly for those people that may not be able to get to the library to take part in a reading group; like the elderly, or those that have conflicting commitments or schedules.

It was also noted in the report on reading groups that cutbacks that have led to reduced opening hours, lack of staff to run reading groups and the reducing availability of books, are all challenges to running a reading group.

Taking this service online gives the community a forum in which to continue their discussions outside of library opening hours and gives group leaders a platform on which to organise the group’s activity, without being an extra burden on library staff.

5. Modernise your offer

Online reading groups can add an extra dimension to your library service, they help you relate to an audience that values reading but might be more at home on social media than in the library.  Their popularity is on the rise and digital book clubs are popping up on various platforms like Facebook, Google Groups, Tumblr, apps and more.

It’s not unusual now for celebrities to lead or promote book clubs, with recent high profile examples including Mark Zuckerberg, Emma Watson and Oprah Winfrey, to name but a few, all starting their own online reading groups.

As the Guardian article about online reading groups says, “Digital book clubs foster diverse literary perspectives minus the pressure – and everyone from feminist celebrities to niche magazines are getting in on the act.”

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