Community Reading at The New York Public Library

By Kelly Coyle-Crivelli | August 6 2018 | General

While the New York Public Library (NYPL) has a longstanding tradition of organizing branch discussion groups, it is relatively new to the Community Reads programming scene. Adult Programming Specialist Kelly Yim shares that the library runs three such programs the Gracie Book Club; One Book, One New York; and Readers Unite. She notes, “The most successful community reads programming ideas were from One Book, One New York.”

Launched in 2017, the program’s inaugural read was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book was selected by nearly 50,000 New Yorkers who voted online or at their local library. Following the announcement, there were some unique community programs implemented to supplement the more traditional book discussions, including: viewing parties of the author’s TED Talks, community conversations sharing immigrant experiences, and a My Americanah social media campaign for program participants to share a photo of themselves reading the book with the hashtag #OneBookNY. NYPL promoted awareness for these events via press releases, newspapers, subway and bus ads, radio plugs, flyers and word of mouth.

Yim emphasizes the value of reaching the non-library user through such extensive programming, especially by “host[ing] in a venue outside the library. Ideally at the end of the program you pass out library card applications to invite them to become library users.” However, she also underscores that “a successful CR is more than just numbers. Think about what you hope to accomplish and what measures you will use to gauge its success.”

Yim shared with us five valuable tips in order to boost community engagement:

  1. Research. Find out how other libraries and cities conducted their community read. Reach out to them to see what worked well and what didn’t. If possible try to attend a another city or county community read. It’ll give you good insight into how to organize your community read.
  1. Get staff and board members buy-in. A community read program is going to take a lot of planning and it’ll require a lot of hands. Make sure everyone is on the same page and goals should be clearly defined. Poll your staff about special interests or skills that they would like to contribute to the program.
  1. Find local partners. Reach out to local publishers, press, government, writers associations, and radio stations or podcasts, schools, colleges, other non-profits – anyone who is even remotely interested or connected to the world of reading or education. Invite them to participate and see if they can help promote the event.
  1. Plan out the logistics thoroughly. Think about ways to make this program easy to participate. A printed program with clear instructions to participate, events that celebrate the book, a map of the library and its services (especially helpful for non-library users). Keep in mind that some participants may not be regular library users. Show off your library collections and resources with displays that celebrate the theme of the community read. This is a great time to highlight to the community what the library has to offer.
  1. Build excitement. Developing a plan to promote the community read is equally as important as the logistics. Post posters and flyers in the library and throughout the community. Use your community partnerships and social media to promote community read as well.


Contributed by Ivana Petani