I’m going to assume, rightly or wrongly, that the people who are interested in reading a blog about books, especially new books, and about library goings-on are also people who tend to belong to book clubs. I run a book group here at The Field Library myself, and am starting another book group at a nearby Senior Living Community (hi, Drum Hill!), but as a library clerk, I also have dealings with other people who are in different book groups. When four or five patrons come in within a day of each other, all looking for a particular book, odds are good that they’re trying to get the book for their book club.
Maybe you’ve encountered something like this yourself. A book is chosen for the group, and of course everybody needs to read it before the next meeting (or at least everybody tries to read it before the next meeting). You have a choice: you can either buy the book (electronically or in print), or you can try to borrow it from your local library. If you don’t know much about the book and aren’t sure you’re going to want to keep it, or if you’re not the kind of person who wants to accumulate books for whatever reason, or you just don’t want to spend money if you don’t have to (all legitimate aims, by the way), you’re going to go to the library to try to get a copy there.
And then you run into a problem, because the person choosing the book for the group hasn’t checked to see if there are any copies available at the local library. Maybe it’s a new, popular book, a bestseller even, so the book chooser just assumes every library has it. Probably every library does have it, maybe even a couple of copies of it, but because it’s new and popular, all those copies are checked out, and even if you put it on hold, there might be a number of holds already on the book ahead of you (sometimes hundreds, literally), which decreases your chances of getting the book before your next meeting. Or maybe it’s an older, more obscure book, and there simply aren’t enough copies in the library system to accommodate all the members of your book group.
It doesn’t have to be that way. When I offer choices of books to the Field Notes Book Group, I’ve already checked to make sure there are enough copies of that book available in the system (not already checked out, not already on hold) that everyone in the group can get one. You can do this, too: check the catalog and look at the number of copies the library system has of the book, and decide accordingly. If it’s the hottest book of the month and there are a hundred copies, all of which are checked out, and there are three hundred holds, maybe that’s not the book you want to choose for this month. Maybe you want to wait a couple of months so more copies will be available. Maybe your friendly librarian could suggest another book that is more readily available that would also be a great read and discussion starter.
My personal feeling is that you shouldn’t have to spend money in order to join a book discussion group. Reading should be free, and the pleasures of reading a book together and talking about it shouldn’t be limited to people who can afford to buy a new hardcover or e-book every month. Check out your library before you choose the book. Ask for help. I know I’d be delighted to advise book group leaders on good reading selections that their members can get their hands on quickly.
Give it a try. You have nothing to lose but your frustrations.