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Six ways your library can support a Common Read program

August 30, 2018
cr display

The Penn State Altoona Library’s display promotes the 2018-2019 Common Read novel, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.

Libraries can serve as vital partners for a Common Read program. This opportunity allows librarians to contribute to a campus-wide initiative, bring the community together, and support student success, engagement, and retention.

Common Read programs (also called One Book, Campus Read, Summer Read, Common Reading Experience, etc.) encourage members of the university community to read the same book. Sometimes the programs focus on first-year students, while others are campus-wide. Many Common Read programs feature events such as discussions, performances, or exhibits related to the book. Faculty often incorporate the book into their courses as well. At some institutions, the library sponsors the program; at others, the program is run by a department or committee and the library serves in a supportive role.

Some ways that libraries can support a Common Read program include:

  1. Book selection. Librarians can join the Common Read selection committee, suggest titles, or provide reviews of short-listed books.
  2. Programming. The library can make available space for events, or librarians can serve as panel participants. They can publicize these events on the library’s social media channels.
  3. Display. Libraries can host a display or exhibit to promote the Common Read book. Displays might include related books, films, or other resources; printed promotional materials; and interactive multimedia aspects.
  4. Instruction. Many librarians are involved in providing information literacy instruction for first-year seminars or English composition courses. Consider using examples from the Common Read in these instruction sessions.
  5. Reserves. Librarians can place copies of the book on reserve for patrons who might have financial constraints if the book is not distributed freely.
  6. LibGuides. Librarians could create an online guide that includes bibliographies of related resources, book reviews, links to author pages and interviews, and a schedule of events.

For example, Penn State Altoona has been running a Common Read program since 2013. For the 2018-2019 Common Read, the book selected is Moshin Hamid’s novel, Exit West. Incoming first-year students received free copies of the novel at orientation, and several faculty have incorporated the book into their syllabi. As part of the program, the campus is offering a full schedule of events including a film screening, panel discussions, writing workshops, culinary presentation, and writing contest, capped off by a keynote address by the author. To support the initiative, the library created a display (pictured above) featuring the book and related materials, posters and bookmarks with quotes from the book, and an iPad pre-programmed with links for more information about Common Read events, the author, and read-alikes. In addition, the library will publicize the Common Read on its social media, and the novel is on reserve for interested patrons who did not yet receive a free copy.

For more ideas about supporting your Common Read program or even for starting one of your own, check out the ALA’s “One Book” webpage. It offers a detailed guide for planning a Common Read program, as well as a list of 150 similar programs from libraries across the US that could serve as models or inspiration.

Jessica Showalter is an Information Resources and Services Support Specialist at Penn State Altoona’s Eiche Library. Say hello on Twitter @libraryjms

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Christina Steffy permalink
    September 4, 2018 6:10 pm

    The library/learning commons at PA College of Health Sciences has been taking the lead on our campus common book initiative since it began last year. Librarians are on the committee to choose the book, and this year we are hosting a book discussion and helping a faculty member plan a presentation that is open to the entire campus. We also have copies of the book available, and we have a LibGuide: We’ve found it’s been easy to support this initiative with minimal staff and financial resources.

    • Jessica Showalter permalink
      October 5, 2018 6:04 pm

      Hi Christina, thanks for sharing your experience about working with the common read at PA College of Health Sciences! I checked out your LibGuide to see what book was chosen– Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End–and I’ve added it to my “To Read” list :)

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