Although they don’t host their NEA Big Read/JAXREADS program annually, the Jacksonville Public Library knows how to celebrate a common read. Last year, the chosen title was The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, and to immerse the community in the text, planned events included an Indian dancing program, henna for teens, crafting for adults, sampling Indian cuisine, and for the finale, Mira Nair, the film director of The Namesake, came for a discussion.
Lisa Buggs, Coordinator of Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement at the library, acknowledges that an author appearance factors into the final title decision, but ultimately the library staff decides on a title based on “community interests and timely, relevant themes.” This is an intensive process, considering that Jacksonville is the second largest city, geographically, in the U.S. and boasts a diverse population. But when a title is finally chosen, the Jacksonville Public Library pulls out all the stops to get the word out, with strategies that include holding a press conference, distributing a program guide at every branch; web, print, broadcast, and billboard ads, email blasts, and even the Jacksonville Jaguars Roar cheerleaders modeling in an event poster. As for reaching non-library users, they place the selected title in public places around town in the hopes of sparking interest. For instance, they left copies of The Namesake at bus stops, in parks, in coffee shops, and churches.
Buggs shares that the most rewarding part of planning and executing Common Reads is, “seeing people who would not necessarily come together join each other in discussing a book and attending programs.” Read on to learn how she and her team make this happen with her five most crucial programming tips:
- Get the buy-in of staff at every level—from administration to part-time staff. If the library staff isn’t excited about the initiative, they can’t get the community engaged.
- Identify potential partners and work together prior to choosing the title. Bring everyone to the table early in the process.
- Survey the community to find out what people want to read. You’ll get more return on investment in time and resources.
- Create programs that engage all members of the community—children, teens, young adults, older adults and people with special needs.
- Have fun! Reading is one of the best activities available and doing it with your fellow residents makes it an even more enjoyable experience.
Contributed by Ivana Petani