I soon found out that No Impact Man was a Community Read, to be read by all students, faculty, and staff, followed by small group discussions in the first weeks of school. While there was already existing assigned summer reading books by department and grade level, this Community Read was the first of its kind at Pingree. Since there was no full-time librarian at that time, the program was spearheaded by a now-retired science teacher and environmentalist who wanted to use the book as a springboard for launching a composting program at the school. In addition to discussions and a new sustainability initiative, this science teacher had also coordinated a Skype session with the author that was held during one of our all-school assemblies.
Later that year, when Dr. Johnson asked me to build upon the momentum from this initial program and to make it an annual event, I was both excited and nervous. Luckily, I already had administrative buy-in (my Head of School was literally asking me to run the program, as opposed to me proposing the idea of a Common Read and needing to lobby for it) and I made note of structural elements that contributed to a successful program: a clear purpose, time for small group discussions, an accompanying event, and practical, follow-up steps. But I was brand new to Pingree, so I definitely had my work cut out for me.
As you’re building your case to advocate for administrative support, be sure to highlight the benefits of a community read program. This can also help you define your purpose, which is integral to building and sustaining your evolving program. It might not also hurt to do a bit of “stealth librarianship” and do book display using titles from One Book, One College: Common Reading Programs that focuses on common books from colleges and universities, or books from a public library program such as Seattle Reads. The idea is to generate excitement for your idea and to build momentum to grow both the program and your community.
Some steps to consider as you move forward:
Step One: Develop and/or Enhance Your Plan
- Use the goal-setting and timeline worksheets found in the ALA guidebook One Book One Community: Planning Your Community-Wide Read. There’s lots of incredibly practical information in this resource.
- Your goals should reflect your community. A glance at the various websites of colleges and public libraries will reveal program goals such as to “encourage reading,” “develop a sense of community,” and “provide students an opportunity to understand diverse perspectives.” Depending on your school and your program parameters, your goals may be fairly similar to these or quite different.
- Get it on everyone’s radar that you’re looking to either launch this program or take your program to the next level.
Step Two: Team Up and Be Inclusive
- There’s power in numbers. How about a collaboration with an academic department? Is there a new course, initiative, or something else unique to your school for which a Community Read might help generate interest?
- If possible, allow everyone to be a part of the process. For example, at Pingree we decide upon a guiding theme for the year. This past year, with the imminent election, my Head of School wanted to focus on democracy. We chose a guiding quote: "A democracy without controversial issues is like an ocean without fish or a symphony without sound." (Diana Hess, 2011) Everyone was welcome to suggest books based on that quote. From those recommendations, we chose the top five and then created this survey using Google Forms so that everyone had a chance to cast a vote. We are clear about when the survey opens and closes, and also transparent with the majority winner. I find that sharing the results via email and in our school newsletter helps build excitement for the program.
Step Three: Beyond the Book
- Is there something you could do to extend the learning so that the Community Read isn’t over and done in a single shot? Maybe an author visit or related event? An action step inspired by the book that you and your students could do together?
Step Four: Transparency and Communication
- Create a website, blog, or some other means of online communication that provides transparency. Take a look at the Pingree Community Read website to see our Program Mission/Goals, Previous Programs, and our Yearly Process/Timeline.
Step Five: Assessment
- Be sure to assess the program each year to determine at least one area of improvement. If you want more student input, perhaps form an advisory board? If expectations were unclear, maybe find new ways to communicate? A common book is only one way of building community, and it’s a wonderful way! Good luck!