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I have started an academic book club but I somewhat have a hard time with it. We are reading a slightly complicated text, so I decided to do a slow-paced reading; but up until now, only one person attended each session. Others seemed to have drifted off, or to be too busy to attend regularly. So I was wondering if any had some experience with organizing online book clubs, and could transmit some of its best tips to me?

In particular, I was wondering:

  • how I can recruit the best people?
  • Should I remove members if needed ? (not that it is needed at the moment, but some people who are in the group have not attended any reading session, so I was wondering if I should message them and remove them from the group if not participating? Also linked to this: should I post a group-rule ahead of time, mentioning that attendance is required to stay in the group?)
  • How do I keep people engaged?
  • How to decide what books to read? (Do I make a pre-selection? Should I do polls? What I was thinking of doing now, is discussing it during a meeting but I don't know if that is the best solution)
  • Should I make slides? Or should I just let the discussion go freely?

If anyone has any resources that they found useful, I'd love to know! Thanks!

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    What do you mean by "recruit the best people"? What is best in this situation? Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 11:48
  • I will guess that if it needs a "leader", then it isn't sustainable. If you do too much it will make things worse, not better.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 12:45
  • I mean reach people that are (a) really interested in my bookclub (and don't just attend just to please me) and (b) are going to invest themselves in it (and not just wait and see until I each time would take the lead, which would - on the long run - be quite annoying I think). I put my bookclub on Twitter for instance, and asked some friends, and some people joined, but I could see they just joined to join, without engaging more than that. I hope this clarifies things :)
    – Marvinsky
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 13:57

2 Answers 2

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You need to decide is how formal you want to make this meeting. At the moment it seems like you are in a situation where people are treating it as a casual event and hence the attendance is patchy, whereas you would prefer consistent attendance and engagement. If you want that, you need to make sure people see the event as a formal, scheduled part of the department's activities.

The first thing to do is add the meeting to the department's calendar. Furthermore, advertise it regularly via email (a week and a day prior to each meeting, perhaps). Depending on the subject matter under discussion, you could even advertise it more widely (to other, neighbouring, departments, for example). Another way to attract attendance is to get a senior member of the department, perhaps the head, to regularly attend and participate in the discussion. Provided this person carries the usual amount of respect amongst their colleagues and students, this will encourage other people to attend, as they realise that the department head is taking it seriously and hence they should too.

I would not remove people from the group if they don't attend. We're all adults, and the workplace isn't like an internet forum with a moderator to block certain users. Removing someone is only going to dissuade them from ever attending again in the future. It could be that they are just not that interested in the book you are covering at the moment.

In terms of selection of material, in my experience it is best to make a pre-selection (perhaps choose four books) that the group members can vote on. People will be more engaged if they have had a say in the selection process. Otherwise it just feels like a class at school with homework imposed by the teacher. But, don't make this a drawn out process. Send round the list and give everyone a week maximum to vote, and then send out the choice immediately after. Taking a long time over a selection will only move the reading group further down people's mental priority lists, again leading to lower attendance.

Finally, I would suggest making perhaps a single slide to summarise the book you have read and posing two or three questions to guide the subsequent discussion. Keep this general theme in mind as the discussion continues, and don't be afraid to steer people back to it if they go off topic, provided you warn them at the beginning that you will do so. This will also help with time-keeping: it's important that you don't let the meeting over-run, as this again will discourage people from attending in the future.

My number one piece of advice would be to enlist someone to co-moderate with you. It helps enormously to have someone to shortlist material with, as well as to hold each other accountable when completing the reading. Finally, and most importantly, having two moderators means that you avoid any awkward silences during the discussion, as the two of you can mention and answer the prompt questions you showed on your slide at the start.

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  • You say "In terms of selection of material, in my experience...". What is your experience here? This all sounds to me like overkill. Something a manager would do.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 12:47
  • This is great, thanks so much @astronat! I just finished my studies and hope to move on into academia - so I won't be able (at least for the moment) to involve a senior member, but I'll definitely refer to what you said later on. Thanks again!
    – Marvinsky
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 14:04
  • These suggestions sound like running a seminar class, which is great if OP has a group of participants who want a seminar, but it doesn't sound like OP has that.
    – Elodin
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 22:04
  • I do not have that, but I'd like to organize something resembling an online seminar in the long run maybe. :)
    – Marvinsky
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 7:57
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Your question sounds like you're trying to set up a seminar class without having enough people interested in a seminar.

I think the real issue you have is finding people who share your interest. If people are interested in discussing the specific book or discussing books in general, they will put more effort into attending.

My suggestion is to start with 1 book and find other people who are interested in discussing it. Then set up a time (based on everyone's schedule) for that discussion. After that meeting, set up the next meeting to continue discussing that book. When you finish a book, form a group consensus on the next book and continue to setup meetings. You will probably have to initiate the discussion, but treat it as an equal discussion (unless they ask you to teach them about the book).

In other words, I feel like you're trying to organize a weekly meeting for people who aren't ready for or interested in committing to it. Instead try organizing 1 meeting at a time with a flexible schedule based on the participants' availability, and continue organizing 1 meeting at a time until it becomes a regular thing.

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  • Thanks Elodin! Will think of it - I just think its kinda easier to set a fix schedule so that it's easy to remember. But I think we sometimes go through topics that are somewhat too 'heavy' for people who are interested, but not really really interested in it. Hard part is that I am really really interested, and so I want to discuss things that others might find somewhat superfluous.
    – Marvinsky
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 7:57

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