by Paula Highfill
Friends of the Mansfield Public Library President and Mansfield Reads! Chair
The Mansfield Public Library has a book club called As the Page Turns. It has about fifteen members. They read a member-suggested book each month then meet at the library for lively discussions and snacks. We also have a book club called Mansfield Reads! They read only one book each year, but they also meet at the library for discussion and have snacks. There are a few other differences. The Mansfield Reads! meeting fills the library to standing room only. Their discussions are led by Texas legends, Pulitzer Prize winners and New York Times Bestsellers. The snacks? Well, the snacks are catered, upscale, accompanied by music and have a reputation of their own. The biggest difference is that Mansfield Reads! has about fifty-five thousand members! That is one big book club!
Ok, so every single resident of Mansfield (fifty-five thousand of them) is not technically a member. But theoretically they are. Mansfield Reads! is a city-wide book club. Each year in April the Friends of the Mansfield Public Library invite everyone in the city to read the same book at the time. The Friends and the library sponsor activities during the month in conjunction with reading the book. The month culminates with the Evening with the Author held on a Friday night in the library. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Simple, maybe. Easy, no.
Six years ago, when the Friends and the library decided to try this project, “One City, One Book” programs were just starting to pop up around the country. Some are thriving and some only lasted a few years. What makes Mansfield Reads! so successful? There are several factors. Trial and error has led to a few basics.
First, we know our goals. The first question we asked was “Why do we want to do this?” The formal answer was “To promote our library and to foster a sense of community through reading.” Keeping these simple goals in mind throughout the planning process keeps us focused and facilitates decision making.
Second, we have partners and sponsors. After our goals were established we started asking “Can we do this?” We talked it up to the entire Friends group, to the city management and some local businesses. We decided that we did have the support and the resources to try it. Our partners and sponsors give us the ways and means to make our program better and better.
Next, we have some very committed volunteers. Once we figured out why we were doing it and we identified resources we realized that this was going to take a lot of time and effort. “Should we really do this?” The answer from our Friends group was a resounding yes. Even though the library staff is enthusiastic and helpful in many ways, the responsibility, the time investment and the actual staging is the work of volunteers who are sincerely dedicated to the program. Very few libraries these days have staff with time to take on extra projects!
Finally, it really is trial and error. We started out with a long list of rules for choosing the book. We came across an excellent book the second year that didn’t really meet all of our criteria but gave us some great opportunities so we decided to be flexible. By the third year our rules had dwindled and after six years, we’ve found that there is really only one rule that is very important to our program; the author must be willing to participate in the Evening with the Author. This event has become the cornerstone of our program so we’ve learned how to make it something really special to the community.
Every community is different, as is every library. If a One City, One Book program is something you are considering, get a group together and ask yourselves those three little questions I mentioned above. If you want more specifics, the NTRLS website has a copy of the presentation on Mansfield Reads! from the 2009 Library Supporters Conference. Go to http://www.ntrls.org/Workshops/FY2009/Handouts/SuppConf/Mom.pdf.
For in-depth guidance the store on the ALA website has a very detailed planning guide for sale. Search “One Book CD” at www.alastore.ala.org.
Maybe you will be the next one to say “Join the Club!”