By Jessica Carruba
Joan Galante and Ann Gilmartin know a thing or two about book clubs. As reference librarians at the Levittown Public Library, they encourage shared reading on a regular basis.
Along with a panel of other book club veterans, they will be on hand Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. for Book Group Night at the Levittown Public Library. This fun and informative evening will include a lively discussion about the benefits and “how to’s” of book clubs—how to start one, how to select books, how to create discussion questions and more.
The inspiration for Book Group Night came from the Women’s National Book Association’s National Reading Group Month, which celebrates “the joy and fun of talking about books with others,” throughout October. Galante hopes the event will entice community members to join a book club, the benefits of which are more numerous and varied than simply finishing a book. Of particular relevance to senior citizens and retirees, she notes book clubs “provide opportunities to increase social interaction, or conversely decrease social isolation.”
Similarly, Next Chapter Book Club, provided by Literacy Nassau and hosted at the Levittown Public Library, uses shared reading to provide key socialization opportunities for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. During the hour-long meetings, group members take turns reading aloud from a book, taking breaks throughout for the instructors to point out vocabulary and encourage comprehension. Instructor Eva T. said the book club is a way to help its members “engage socially [while improving] fluency.”
Community and camaraderie are two of the main components of Page Turners, the Levittown Public Library’s monthly book discussion group, hosted by a rotation of four librarians, including Gilmartin and Galante. Gilmartin coordinates the program, which offers afternoon and evening meetings to accommodate both retirees and group members who work. She emphasizes that the spirit of community is as important a component of the group as the books themselves.
“Book discussions are not just about the books being read. They are also opportunities for social interaction and offer people a comfortable and safe place to meet new people and express themselves,” she said. “The shared reading experience brings people together.”
Robin Levine has attended Page Turners at night for the past 4½ years, missing only one discussion. She concurs that one of the greatest benefits of the book group is the opportunity to create friendships. The meetings typically include anywhere from eight to 18 attendees, with the core members always eager to include new ones into the fold. Levine says the “warm and friendly” nature of the librarians, attendees, and other library staff is why Page Turners remains her exclusive book club.
For patrons who would prefer to start their own group or need guidance for a group they are already running, the Levittown Public Library provides cardholders with the option of Book Club in a Bag. Galante organizes the service, in which patrons may check out a curated tote bag kit containing 10 copies of a title, with large print and audiobook copies included when possible, and a binder with discussion questions, information about the author, background information pertaining to the subject matter of the book, and more.
With 15 kits currently available in-house at the Levittown Public Library and access to more than 200 additional titles through a consortium of Nassau County Libraries, bibliophiles have an array of options when it comes to selecting their next book club pick. Not only does Book Club in a Bag take care of the work involved in gathering the materials and generating content for the discussions, but it also ensures that all members of the group have a copy of the book.
As Galante explains, “So often we have patrons coming into the library trying to obtain a copy of a title for their next book club discussion, and finding that it’s a very popular title with a long waiting list. [With Book Club in a Bag], one member of the group borrows the kit and distributes the copies to members of their club.” The Children’s Department is in the process of creating their own Book Club in a Bag kits, proving book clubs are not limited by age.
For those interested in developing a greater connection with a community of readers, they are encouraged to attend Book Group Night and join in on the conversation. As Manny Mavrikakis, acting head of the reference department at the Levittown Public Library, points out, communities are not defined by a singular voice, but by the fellowship that comes with hearing different points of view: “Allowing yourself to express your opinion about the books and listening to other opinions is a great way to build a strong community bond.”
—Jessica Carruba is a librarian at the Levittown Public Library