The Care and Keeping of Student Book Clubs

There are many ways to do book clubs, and I’m sure we all do it a little differently. I wanted to share a little bit about how we facilitate book groups at Mercersburg Academy in the hopes that maybe it’ll inspire some new ways of thinking about book groups at your school. At the end of the post, I have some tips for affording book club so don’t miss those!

Here’s how we do it:

  1. Students submit books that they’d like to read. I usually ask at a book club meeting to see if anyone has suggestions and students email me throughout the month to add things to the list. Cost IS a factor since we buy a copy of the book for each student. If we can’t get a good price, we either offer it to them as an eBook only choice OR we put it on the “we’ll try later” list.
  2. The library staff supplements the list of books submitted by students. We are looking for diversity: are all authors women? Add some men. Were all the books written in English? Add some books in translation. Generally we are shooting for a well-rounded list of 4-6 books.
  3. I send out the list to students and they vote via google form.The google form includes link to the amazon wishlist with all the books on this month’s list. This allows students to read the descriptions and reviews, without those things clogging up the google form.
  4. The top 2 choices are the ones we read…within reason. If they top 2 choices are incredibly similar, sometimes we do the top choice and the 3rd choice. Usually this happens when there are 2 YA fantasy choices on the list. I know that a lot of my students would prefer to read books based in reality (either nonfiction or fiction) and so I try to give them an option for that.
  5. I buy copies of the books for all students. I know. It sounds crazy and expensive…and in some ways it is. I am lucky to have a healthy book buying budget AND a community that believes deeply in reading. We’ve decided that money devoted to individual books for students is a priority for us. However, I realize this isn’t the case for everyone so here are some ways to offset the cost a bit:
  • GalleyMatch – This is a relatively new service to match book groups to publishers. Publishers are looking to send particular titles to groups and you can either accept or reject the book offer. We signed up with the service right when it launched and our first box of books is on the way. When I emailed with a GalleyMatch rep, she said they are looking for more young adults to send books to!
  • YALSA book groups – Though it requires your book program to be more established, applying to be one of the teen book selection groups through YALSA is a great way to get books…a lot of books. We haven’t done this at Mercersburg Academy yet because we can’t keep up with the volume of books publishers send, but it sounds like a really awesome program if you’ve got some very avid readers.
  • Book Depository – order international versions of books, often for less than the cost of the US versions! Since my group tends to read a lot of international titles, we often find that Book Depository has a better price. Sometimes this is because there is a paperback already available internationally. The best thing is, there aren’t any shipping costs!
  • Book Outlet – Did you know that when publishers move a book to paperback, they often are looking to offload their hardcovers somewhere? This is where a lot of publishers sell copies of books they can’t sell otherwise. It’s a great place to get hardcovers of titles that aren’t really new, but also aren’t the old standards. Shipping generally takes about 2 weeks so you need to plan ahead, but other than that it’s a really wonderful way to get books inexpensively.

I’d love to hear from you – what does book club look like at your school? How do you acquire books? Have you used any of the services I listed above?

6 thoughts on “The Care and Keeping of Student Book Clubs

  1. Alexandra, this is so great! I’m not sure that I’m at a point where I could purchase a copy for my students, but I could look for books that are available via interlibrary loan and use a Google form to mix up the offerings. Thank you too for the Book Outlet link! Am I the only one who didn’t know about that?! BOOKMARKED and ready to use on my next order. Thanks so much!!!

    • BookOutlet is truly an exceptional way to get books. I’ve occasionally had small snafus when I ordered “scratch & dent” copies without realizing it so be sure to look at how the books are labeled! They also go rather quickly since there are such good prices, so it’s worth checking out all in one go.

    • We have 2 different groups, so in any given month I have 20-35 students participating. Each group meets during lunch, once a month. Our lunches are required sit-down meals for the whole community.

  2. Thank you for sharing many great thoughts! A question: a couple of times we’ve done the “order a copy for everybody” route, and we end up ordering 30 copies, and 5 people come to discuss. I feel like students get the book and *poof* that’s the last we see of them. Do you ask students to participate further? Can they continue to request a book if they don’t come to discussions? As I re-read this, I realize I sound judge-y, but really just trying to get a sense of what’s reasonable to expect. Thank you!

    • I order a copy for students every month, but only if they’ve shown up for the month before or have a good excuse. Usually I order 15 copies of each book and we have 12-13 students show up for each discussion. I take a poll at the beginning of each meeting to see who finished the book, who got at least halfway through and who never started. Depending on the range, I give a little talk about the importance of finishing the books. The kids see getting copies of the book as a privilege, so it usually isn’t a problem with not showing up. I also have a policy that if you regularly don’t finish the books, you stop receiving copies of them.

      Hope that helps!

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