Support Groups for
BY BECKY SPRATFORD
A librarian walks into a bar, sits down, and puts her head in her
hands. The bartender strolls over and asks, “Tough day at work?
Your relationship headed south?” “Both!” answers the librarian.
“Book club did not go well today; it did not go well at all . . .”
Time to admit it—even if you have never headed right from book club to a bar, there have been days when it’s been tempting. Everyone hated the book and did nothing but
complain about having to read it for two hours straight. Maybe
one person hijacked the discussion and turned it into a diatribe
about her political beliefs. Or, even worse, a heated argument
broke out, you lost control, and participants started screaming at
each other . . . over a book!
At their best, book discussion groups are the epitome of why
we became librarians in the first place. We get paid to read a
book and talk about it with fellow book lovers. Sounds perfect,
but then reality sets in. Book clubs are actually a complicated
dance, where we have to balance the content of the book, the
act of leading and planning a discussion, and the realities of an
ever-changing group dynamic of patrons dragging their own
personal baggage to the discussion. And we generally do all
of this alone, without the benefit of another coworker in the
room to help us manage it all.
As the librarian in the bar above indicated, when book club
goes south, you have work and relationship troubles all intertwined. It’s enough to make even a seasoned book club leader’s
head spin, and the only other people who can truly understand
how you are feeling are fellow book discussion leaders. But
where are they? If you don’t find help soon, you might be the
one with the embarrassingly loud outburst at the next meeting.
Those of you who lead book discussion groups know I am not
exaggerating about these issues and feelings. Every single one of
those examples have happened to me at one time or another in
my 15 years of leading book discussion groups, but I have found
a better solution than heading to the nearest bar. I found a book
discussion leader support group, a place where I can recharge my
batteries, share my successes, commiserate over my failures, and
look for inspiration with colleagues from all over the region. Let
me tell you about it.
The Adult Reading Round Table (ARRT) [ arrtreads.org],
a group dedicated to developing reader’s-advisory skills and
promoting reading for pleasure through public libraries in the
Chicago area, provides its members access to quarterly literary book discussion and leadership training. We give library
book discussion leaders the chance to sit back and enjoy being
discussion participants while also offering a forum for sharing
questions and practical solutions to the unique problems and
concerns of book group leaders. This “nuts and bolts” training session is offered at the end of each discussion. Both the
traditional book discussion and the leadership training session
are moderated by a member of the ARRT Steering Committee.
ARRT offers a rotating cast of leaders, titles, and locations so
that members can find a discussion that fits their schedule.
Not only does the ARRT literary book discussion and leader-
ship training allow book discussion leaders, weary of always
being the facilitator, the chance to rekindle the spark in their