Creating an online community in a time of social distancing – guest post by Kate Grigsby



Kate Grigsby is a Liaison Librarian for the Arts and Humanities faculty at the University of Sheffield. She is also the Marketing and Communication Officer for the Information Literacy Group. Her role involves IL teaching, as well as supporting learning and research. She has previously worked in public, prison and further education libraries.

Kate Grigsby standing in front of the ILG banner holding an ILG reusable coffee cup.


Arts and Humanities Book Club(s)

Although not directly related to information literacy, this post explores the experience of establishing two online book groups (one for undergraduates and one for postgraduates). These book groups have hopefully contributed towards an increased sense of community amongst students which I hope will enhance their learning. 

Establishing the book club

I currently work within the Arts and Humanities faculty engagement team. We were contacted initially by the Student Experience officers from the faculty, enquiring as to whether we would like to facilitate two online book clubs for their students. The intention was to provide an informal meeting place for new and continuing students, facilitating social interaction and a sense of community in a time of social distancing and isolation. Personally, I was really excited about this project having previously been involved in book clubs in public libraries. 

Administration

In terms of administration the Student Experience team managed sign-ups (on a Google form) and promoted the meetings via emails and their webpages. The Library would endeavour to purchase the books for each meeting as e-books, to ensure that everyone had ready access to the text. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been possible to obtain the first-choice titles due to the limitations of the academic book supply market .The initial sessions were fully booked, which was really encouraging for something the Library had never been involved in before.  

To prepare we read the texts and created a Powerpoint with an ice breaker (“your favourite fictional character”) and some questions to prompt discussions. The sessions have taken place over Blackboard Collaborate with the link being sent the day before to participants.

Development points

Unfortunately the first book club was poorly attended. Although we had 60 expressions of interest prior to the meeting, we capped the numbers at  25 to ensure that the group was a manageable size and would encourage participation and discussion. In the event, only three attended and not all had finished the book, though there were some good discussions and those present gave very positive feedback, even if the ice-breaker didn’t work as well as intended. 

For the next session (the same book but with postgraduate students) we used our library events booking system to invite all of those students who had expressed interest to register for the event. We also sent the link to the e-book in the event details to ensure everyone had the opportunity to read it. We also tried a different approach to the ice breaker, giving students notice of it in the event email. On this occasion we asked students to share their favourite book, or one they had recently read and enjoyed, which seemed to stimulate more discussion and even sharing of recommendations. This worked really well!

Positives 

The second book club went much better than the first. We were so impressed by the insights of the students and they led the conversations. We didn’t really need to use the discussion point questions and indeed the session ran over the planned time, such was the level of interaction! I am hopeful that these online book clubs will foster a sense of community and go some way to helping students to integrate and make friends. In the longer term we are hoping that the students themselves will take on the organisation and chairing of the meetings, with the Library playing a supporting role as needed. Hopefully the book clubs will continue to meet in person when social distancing allows.

Questions

Have you delivered a book club before? How did you find it?

Are you delivering any initiatives to create an online community in the absence of informal social interaction? 

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