We do plenty in our library that is not academic. We try to make space for students to unwind, to commune, to take a little break, as well as a space for study. When our campus is open we have events like many of you do: board game days, trivia contests, crafting days, and so on. We have jigsaw puzzles, bean bags, magnetic poetry boards, and all the fixings for a great community space. Now that we are all on zoom (we’ve been home since 3/13/20 with no end in sight), those events have transformed into new things. We have book and movie fan parties, for example, with trivia and sticker prizes sent to students’ homes via snail mail. Our zoom events that are just for fun are a bit more sparsely attended, which isn’t a surprise. Who wants to go to another zoom after a long day of school?
But what about the adults on our campus? How can I serve them better in a non-academic way? The academic support, I’ve got down. I think we’ve done a pretty decent job reformatting our instruction, collaboration, and research projects for this moment. We have new services and digital resources to replace what teachers cannot access in the physical space. And while I guest-teach in classes all the time, my teaching load is nothing compared to our faculty. We have teachers with overloads, teachers with three different preps, not to mention grading, parenting, planning, being a club moderator, and wearing all the many hats one often does at a small, independent school. While we have been home, not only have I been looking for new ways to serve our student patrons, I’ve also been trying to keep present in my mind that our teachers and staff are also our library patrons.
This topic might be on my mind at the moment because this is one of my heavy teaching weeks. I am teaching twelve classes this week, so the same number of blocks as a teacher with an overload. I am currently writing this in the last part of my lunch break after having taught the first three blocks of the day and getting ready to hop into the last. I haven’t returned emails, looked at my to-do list, or come up for air more than to get a glass of water and pass snacks to my third-grade child. When I have weeks like this, I can’t stop thinking “How are they doing this week after week?” For me, and perhaps for you, some weeks are heavy teaching weeks and others are not. They are all busy weeks, but this is next-level.
If I believe that the library is meant to serve the students’ academic as well as non-academic needs, then I also want to consider the same for our faculty and staff. If I believe that the library is a learning space and a community space, how am I helping our teachers maintain community while we are all at home?
Many of you probably have faculty and staff book clubs, right? Well, we didn’t. Years ago we did, but the teacher who ran it retired and I wasn’t in a position at the time to take it on. As the 2019-2020 school year came to a screeching halt (and somehow also took forever to end), I spoke with several friends and colleagues about how little we’d all been reading for pleasure since the pandemic hit. People were watching Tiger King and making shared movie/tv show lists, but our brains were fried. Yet, we all missed reading. It felt unnatural not to have one, two, or three books going at the same time. People seemed to feel that they should be reading, but also that they should be reading certain books. To that I say phooey! Well, not entirely.
I do think that informed people who intend to grow as humans should read certain books or certain authors or at least read on certain topics and about certain experiences. I do not, however, think that any reader should reject a book they want to read because it’s not on someone’s should list. I also know that sometimes, to kickstart reading after a slump, I need a particular kind of book to get me going again. Once I’m out of the slump I can tackle something more serious or challenging, but the kickstart book can be really hard to find. I wanted to end my own slump, and I knew some of my colleagues did too. To that end, I created the Low Stakes Book Club for faculty and staff. What does low stakes mean? For us, it means a few things.
- The book selection will not necessarily be a great work of literature, though it may be. It will often be a popular mystery, a page-turner, or a celebrity’s book club selection. We often choose books on the fly, though sometimes I send out a poll.
- The book club meeting is itself low stakes. Didn’t read the book? Who cares? You can show up anyway and hear about it from those who did. Maybe you read three chapters, hated it, and put it down. That’s cool! We hope to see you there.
- The purpose and administration of the club is low stakes. There is no theme, no pattern, no goal except to come together (on zoom) and keep our wonderful community going in a totally low stakes way. I might plan a game or trivia or discussion questions, but I really might not.
It’s been great. We have teachers and staff who faithfully read the book and show up every time, and people who never show up even though they always say they will. We’ve read some serious things and some less serious things. It’s been a nice way to connect with colleagues that I have no other chance to see since we’ve left the hallways and the dining hall (and the library!) to collect dust in our absence. And when we return to a new normal, the library will have played a role in bringing some happiness to a few teachers and staff along the way, which feels pretty good.
The Low Stakes Book Club has read:
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Stamped by Jason Reynolds
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda
The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
I love the “low stakes” aspect of your book club, and I will definitely make this a part of our faculty/staff book club. I also liked seeing the titles you’ve read so far!
This sounds like such a lovely way to build community — thank you!
I have a group of friends who love to read but we could never agree on a single title to all read. So we just meet and bring a book to share. In person, we each bring a copy that someone else will take home and we will take something new. It’s a variation on your low stakes and an equal amount of fun!
Perfect! A low stakes book club sounds like just the right thing for me as well as others who miss connections but sometimes don’t have the energy to read one more thing, show up prepared, be insightful, or do anything besides just be and appreciate the people around me. What a fantastic idea-thanks for sharing.
Thanks for this, Nora! We have a low stakes faculty book club which we’ve dubbed our “Faculty and Staff Not-a-Book Club” as well. I, however, tend to be a non-fiction reader so we typically do non-fiction books and make it low stakes by encouraging folks to join even if they only read part of the book, read the young readers’ edition, listened to the audiobook, read an article on/by the book’s author, or watched a Ted Talk… My only prep is usually, “What did you think? Did any of it speak to you?” and we just chat. I don’t know about you, but it’s typically about 50% discussion about the book and 50% just chatting tangentially about ideas and experiences that bubbled up as we read. I love your list. It’s time for us to do a fiction read!