As part of our ongoing 'Experienced In' series Annastasia Ward, Reader Services Development Manager in Essex, shares her experience of running an online reading group through Facebook.
Tell us a bit about your online reading group - how does it work, which platforms do you use, who/ how many people are using it?
The reading group runs on the Essex Libraries' Facebook page, anyone can join in, and we have live tweeted parts of the discussion.
Initially, the activity ran as a facilitated discussion for an hour on a weeknight evening and focused on a single title. However, we wanted to open it up to as many people as possible so the emphasis is now on an author rather than a title. We choose authors that have a broad popular appeal and that have had work adapted for TV and film. This means that even if you haven't read any of their books you might be able to join in.
The discussion now takes place over a weekend and is entirely user led. Facilitation takes place as part of our general monitoring of, and responding to, our social media channels.
One of the challenges is getting people to join in and post comments. In order to encourage participation in the discussion we've been working with publishers and this has resulted in us being able to offer the incentive of a free book (for collection from any Essex library) to the first people who comment.
However, it is worth remembering that social media is measured by how many people have seen the post or shared it as much as by number of comments or likes. Our posts relating to the online reading group usually have the highest daily page reach and daily engaged users for the month.
Why did you start running an online reading group? Does it tie in with your offline reading groups at all?
Essex Libraries support around 700 reading groups but we wanted to open up the opportunity for participation in a reading group to those who couldn't get to one in real life. An online group can overcome the issue of needing to be in a specific location at a specific time. It's also a great way for those who are uncertain as to whether a reading group is for them to find out what it's like and the type of discussions that take place. The informal nature of an online reading group reduces the level of commitment for people with busy lives.
There have been some comments that the online group and discussion is inspiring offline reading group choices.
How do you promote your online reading group to library users?
We publish a number of posts on our Facebook page reminding users that it is coming up. The featured video on our YouTube channel for the week of the discussion will usually be a trailer for one of the author's books. Additionally, we promote on Twitter, in our e-newsletters, on our website and via Yammer. Library staff are encouraged to tell customers about the discussion and remind them that they can stay in touch via our online activities.
What sort of feedback have you had from library users about the online reading group?
Customers have been asking library staff when the next one is happening and what the discussion will be about. It's clear from the discussion comments on Facebook that people are enjoying the opportunity to have a reading related discussion online.
What 3 tips would you offer to librarians thinking about setting up an online reading group?
Think about what your service wants to get out of it and set your activity up accordingly.
It's easy for this type of activity to be very time intensive so look at how you can keep this aspect to a minimum. Letting the users create the content helps with this and means customers get the type of activity they want.
Be prepared for continuous change. Social media is always changing and you need to keep up with it. However, it does offer scope for reviewing and altering your activities to ensure that they are working in the most effective way for you and your customers.
Take a look at Essex Libraries' Facebook reading group here: