Arts Library Book Clubs

book jacket for Talking with the Turners      Does your library host a book club?

When I came to the Museum of International Folk Art last year one challenge was to renew interest in library services after a span of almost two years with no librarian present. The docents in particular had stopped using the library at all, though they continued to use their smaller docent library resources. How to get them back? Our wonderful Docent Educator Leslie Fagre and I concocted a book club, now in its sixth month, that has proven popular and successful.

Our selections are intended to work with current and upcoming exhibits or events. We started around the time Brasil: Arte Popular opened, with the novel The War of the Saints by Jorge Amado. Though many attendees did not finish the book, the conversation was splendid, so we decided to continue. We’re still experimenting with formats. One month, in conjunction with a Gallery of Conscience exhibit on immigration, Between Two Worlds, we provided a list of more than a dozen books, fiction and non-fiction, related to the experience of immigrants. Each person read one or more from the list. The larger list meant everyone could find something to suit their interests, taste, and time. Conversation related more to themes, and less to writing style or specific characters. The next month, though, attendees chose to return to the one book format.

Most of our choices so far have been novels with a loose connection to our exhibits. This month we are moving solidly into non-fiction, and into more direct connection, as we read Talking with the Turners:Conversations with Southern Folk Potters by Charles R. Mack in preparation for the upcoming exhibit Pottery of the U.S. South :
A Living Tradition. We’ll see how that goes.

As we experiment with our book club, trying to find the best balance for our attendees, I’d be very interested in hearing about your book clubs. Coming from public library-land, I was unfamiliar with the wide array of museum and academic library book clubs, each with its own format and style. Who runs the club? How is it structured? Is it for the general public, for students, for staff, for docents? I find myself thinking about starting another club, meeting less frequently, for the broader community… or, given our strong museum collection of textiles and library collection of textile books, a museum library traditional/historic needlework group… oh, for endless staff and money!

If you have a successful book (or other club), please share.