PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
When our library first opened in 1902, several “reading clubs” were started the first year centered on various interests of library users.
One reading club discussed and read about gardening, there was another reading history books, and a 3rd group looked at domestic chores around the house.
To me, the most interesting group was veterans of the Civil War, who read government reports from the war, as well as books and publications reviewing the great battles of the conflict.
The Civil War veterans were assigned an area of the basement of the library for them to read and review maps of the war, which had been provided at the librarian’s request, from the federal government.
Special permission was granted for the veterans to smoke cigars within that one room of the library, when they gathered to discuss the Civil War.
As the years passed, the topics changed and sometimes the reading clubs were called book clubs, or discussion groups.
The 1950s brought the “Great Books” series to libraries around the world, and a generation learned about the greatest literature written through their local public library.
When I entered the profession in the 1970s, reading clubs and book clubs had quietly faded away into the background of library history.
People were using libraries more than ever, but gathering to discuss reading was no longer in the forefront of people’s priorities.
The opening of the 21st Century has found a revival of public library “Book Clubs,” and our library is no exception to this resurgence.
By my count, our library system has 7 Book Clubs in active operation around the county.
The club at our Adena Branch meets the 4th Monday of the month at the library, but they admit to going to area restaurants for a special occasion. Like all of the clubs, they read a variety of topics, recently finishing “Secret Daughter,” by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.
The neighboring book club at the Dillonvale Branch Library consists of 14 people. Their latest read was “Truest Pleasure” by Robert Morgan, and they like a cup of tea with their book discussion, and even have a Tea Party each April.
Tiltonsville Branch has two book clubs. The morning club meets the second Tuesday of the month, and their recent book was “Weight of Silence” by Heather Gudenkauf.
The evening “Thriller” book club meets the last Tuesday of each month in the evening, reading “Stranger Beside Me,” by Ann Rule.
The Brilliant Evening Book Club meets the last Monday of each month, and they just finished “Breaking Night” by Liz Murray.
The 2nd Tuesday of the month is meeting time for the Toronto book club, and they are reading “Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven,” by Fannie Flagg. Past books have included “Cold Sassy Tree,” as well as “Loving Frank” and “Water for Elephants.”
The last Wednesday of the month is meeting time for the 30 folks in the Main Library book club. They enjoy both fiction and nonfiction, and rarely agree on whether the book is “good” or not.
That same evening is the meeting time for the Men’s book club at the Main Library, where they have finished “Hellhound on his Trail,” by Hampton Sides.
The Schiappa Branch does not currently have a book club, but the summer adult reading club has attracted so many interested people that we had to order more supplies for it.
I have heard that the snacks are a reason for the attendance at some of the book clubs, but I would also suggest that the opportunity to gather and discuss thoughts and ideas is also a big attraction.
We seem to be lost in a world in which the opportunity for human interaction has disappeared. A civil conversation has been replaced with social networking.
These book clubs can have lively conversations, and clear disagreements about the quality of the book being read for the month, but in the end they are a wonderful exercise for the brain cells.
And when I pass through that basement room at the Main Library, I can still smell a whiff of cigar smoke from a century ago.