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February 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
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In November 2016, the Lawrence Public Library Book Squad held its second-ever Book Club Speed Dating event. Soon after the doors opened, eager readers were lined up to attend a program to talk about books. Books, my friends! It soon became clear that we were going to exceed our attendance goal for the evening. We sprang into action, getting extra chairs and announcing the need to snuggle close and make room for our new bookish friends, all the while grinning at the success of this beautiful monster of a program. In the end, we hosted a night dedicated to learning about the best in book-club reads that was attended by 100 people, each of whom left the event basking in the glow of a thriving reading community.
Our first Book Club Speed Dating event, in April 2016, was held in the library auditorium, replete with snacks, “mocktails,” decorations, and advanced reader copies (ARCs) tied up in ribbons on the tables as a thank-you for attending. Eight Book Squad members pitched four books each in five minutes—moving from table to table when the timekeeper told us to advance. It was a raucous, fast-paced event that was fun for both presenters and attendees. We ended up with 40 participants, but the response at the end of the night told us that this wouldn’t be a one-off event. Patrons were stoked and wanted to know when they could do this again and bring friends. We’d need a second event, and we started to dream bigger.
For our November event, we partnered with a local event space that graciously gave us the room and did all of the setup, plus provided us a concierge for the night. (If you regularly do library programs, you know how rare and beautiful this is.) In exchange, we purchased their desserts and had them open up the bar for business. People were excited to get a beverage and enjoy a nerdy night out on the town. To add value to the event, we ran a slideshow of all the new book bags we’d acquired in the last month so that any “down time” at the tables wouldn’t be wasted. Again, we shared our older ARCs with bookmarks on how to review them, and we also brought soon-to-be-published ARCs that people could win at the end of the night.
In essence, Book Club Speed Dating requires little more than very enthusiastic staff who can booktalk—we used five librarians and three local booksellers— and who are willing to pitch books quickly. The event can be as large or as small as you need, depending on how many tables or presenters you have. (We’ve had success with eight rounds, which is pretty manageable.) That’s it. Any library can do it for little to no money, but if you have a bit of budget to put toward snacks and decorations, you have all the ingredients for a very successful program.
Let me reiterate that the most important ingredient is passionate staff who booktalk quickly, clearly, and well. Practice hitting that five-minute mark because when the bell dings, you have to scramble to the next table and start all over again. Being well versed in appeal factors and able to identify them enthusiastically for participants is key. Having a space where you can spread the tables out is also helpful—one of the few bits of negative feedback we received was that the surrounding excitement made it harder to hear the presenter. The rest of our feedback (gathered from a Google survey a few days after the event) was incredibly supportive, along the lines of: “Awesome night! So fun! Do it again!” We took that advice, and we already have the space reserved for April 2017.
Polli Kenn is the Readers’ Services Coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library, in Lawrence, Kansas.
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