by Tim Wojcik
In person and virtual book talks – how are librarians managing the new, if temporary, normal? I spoke with Public Services Librarian Sarah Trowbridge about book talks at the Fayette County Public Library.
TW – I attended a couple of your book talks before Covid-19. Both times, there were about 20-25 people attending. How does participation before and after the virus compare?
ST – The two occasions on which you attended were high-attendance moments for that particular group. We have two adult book groups that meet monthly, and both have been meeting for about 12 years or so. By the time we closed the library doors in mid-March 2020, the Thursday night general-interest group (the one you dropped in on) was varying in attendance from month to month, with as few as 10 people to occasionally 20 or more. On the other hand, before Covid-19 our Monday Morning Mystery group consistently drew 25-30 people in a meeting room every month.
At this point (November 2020), with both groups back on a regular monthly schedule online, we are getting a pretty steady attendance of 17 people in each group. So, the attendance has dropped quite a bit for our Mystery group, but the average number in attendance for the Thursday general-interest group has actually gone up a bit.
TW – Since Covid-19, do you find folks from outside your local area attending the book talk – as Zoom enables distance participation.
ST – I have one new member who lives in a neighboring county who has been attending both groups for several months now, and she acknowledges that she would not have been making the trip for in-person meetings. She is grateful for the opportunity to join us online. I haven’t noticed anyone from farther away join us. With virtual meetings, several members have been showing up more consistently every month.
TW – How is supply and demand for the book of the month? Are you able to meet demand?
ST – This has been variable since we reopened, and kind of hard to predict. Transit times for copies requested through the PINES system are stretching out longer and longer. Add to that the period of quarantine when materials arrive (and perhaps at other points along the way), and we’ve had some concerns about getting copies to everybody who wants them. Still, I haven’t been hearing any complaints. For several months this summer, I intentionally picked books for the Thursday group that are in the public domain, and so widely available online in various formats. This also helped to bridge the gap.
TW – Any challenges managing the conversation via Zoom? Any techniques you’ve found useful to manage the conversation?
ST – One thing that has absolutely been a must is to always have a co-pilot in the meeting with me. When we started experimenting with Zoom back in April, my colleague Jessica, who has been my right-hand woman from the beginning for the Mystery group, graciously agreed to also sit in on the Thursday meetings. Jessica began to handle all the technical tasks for both meetings. So she is available to let people in from the Zoom waiting room, keep an eye on whose turn it is to speak, monitor chat activity, along with other administrative hosting duties. This frees me up to focus solely on the discussion, which is an enormous help.
We set everyone’s audio and video to “off” by default as they enter the meeting, and we ask that our members with video raise their hands for a turn to speak. Members without video can type “hand” or something similar in the chat box, and they get their turn accordingly. This is not to say that everybody always remembers, and sometimes in the excitement we do get people talking over each other, but it always sorts itself out. Having an assistant helps a great deal with keeping things equitable and moving along.
TW – Last year, the Fayette County Public Library participated in the One Book, One Community program. Any thoughts about a program in 2020?
ST – In fact, by February we already had the 2020 edition of Fayette on the Page (our home-grown annual One Book, One Community program that has been running since 2008) well planned out, and it was a really exciting lineup. By May, we knew we could not go ahead with everything we had planned, so we decided to postpone the event until 2021. We hope, by next year, to have a safe and responsible way to conduct all of the great programs we had planned for this fall. So stay tuned for news about that!
We just completed a micro-scale, extremely lightweight version of Fayette on the Page. We called it “Tools for Truth.” Everyone was encouraged to read whatever works for them in their individual searches for meaning. As part of this program, the Thursday book group read The Enchiridion by Epictetus and talked about Stoic philosophy and its utility in our current pandemic situation.
TW – What’s the next book or two in line for book discussion?
ST – The November books are: for the Thursday evening group The Trail of Tears by Gloria Jahoda (in observance of Indigenous Heritage Month), and for the Mystery group the light and fluffy Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson (a cooking-themed cozy with recipes). We always take a one-month book hiatus in December. Unfortunately, we will be missing our traditional year-end Holiday potluck get-together.
The Mystery group will begin 2021 with titles already planned for the end of 2020. This puts us with Th1rt3en by Steve Cavanagh for January, and Shanghai Moon by S. J. Rozan (a personal favorite of mine) for February. We do change it up and read a really wide variety of crime fiction! The Thursday group maintains a strict monthly alternation between fiction and nonfiction. For January I’m looking at one of Fredrick Backman’s novels from a couple of years back, and I’m zeroing in on a not too weighty collection of essays for February.
Thanks! Sarah Trowbridge may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .