What is Book Discussion Scheme?
In simple terms, what we are is a subscription service for book clubs around New Zealand. For many book clubs, it can be difficult to find enough copies to give to all your members – and so we run a scheme where we purchase enough books to go around. We also write up discussion points for the book clubs.
How do you know which books to order?
We have a team of people with an ear to the ground on the literary scene – we’re always looking for award winning books, and books by local authors. We purchase early copies and get our volunteer readers network to write detailed reviews.
What makes a good book club book?
We look for a book that has something to discuss. It’s a real mix – we have more literary or ‘worthy’ reads, but we also make sure we have lighter reads, mysteries, genre fiction that sort of thing.
We try to have a diverse mix because it’s really about trying to open people’s minds to books that they might not normally consume. We want to expose readers to different themes and ideas.
Where does your mandate come from?
We actually started in 1973 as part of the CWEA – we were originally one of the programmes there. It was pretty small scale and modelled off overseas book club services.
Originally the scheme was targeted to rural people so they could access arts and literature – it really has its roots in 1925 when boxes of educational and art materials were delivered to rural areas by the WEA Box and Car Schemes — back then t
here was a tutor librarian who went around and gave classes.
The book groups that began in 1973 were also rural but after the first year it was obvious it would work everywhere, so it really expanded from there.
Now we have approxinately 1300 groups and 13,000 members across Aotearoa.
Tell us more about what you do
The whole programme is run out of Christchurch. And while we are still guided by the by the WEA kaupapa of learning opportunities at all stages of life, it really has grown into its own right – we are guided by values of diversity and community.
Book clubs have the reputation of being white middle class women and while that is somewhat true, we recognise that the benefits of book clubs are so good for people including men; speakers of other languages; all sorts of different societal groups. So we offer tailored and subsidised versions of our programme to support reading and connecting among these groups.
We also run groups in prisons and that can be especially rewarding.
So how does it work
You join as a group – individual subscriptions are something we would like to do – but at the moment it’s done through group coordinator who gets the books delivered and distributes them to their own book club.
One of our goals is to increase social cohesion and so having a group dynamic really helps with this.
There are lots of people who like to read, and read alone, but the feedback we get is that the group aspect really helps people appreciate what the book is saying. So the group thing is pretty important to us.
Is there a cost?
It costs $75 a year per member to join our full programme. For that, they get ten books a year, delivery throughout New Zealand included. In saying that we always try to let people know that if cost is a barrier then we can look at options — We don’t want cost to stop people from taking part.
Aside from the book clubs, we also work with the libraries to host groups for community engagement, with librarians hosting the group.
Are there any rules?
Basically groups are self-directed. We have lots of tips of how to manage the choice of books, how to set expectations of a book club and how a book club should work. The groups choose the books themselves from our catalogues. It’s a high trust model — you get the books seven days before your meeting and then you send them back seven days after the meeting. You can have 3 overdue items at a time. Considering the number of groups we have, on the whole everyone is really great at taking care of the books while they have them and returning them to us on time so other groups can enjoy them.
We hear you’re collaborating with WORD Festival this year — can you tell us more about that?
We are offering a six-month mini version of our book club programme which features books from WORD festival authors. Participants in the WORD Book Club also get access to discounted livestreams. The idea is to expand and enrich the festival experience and encourage participation outside of Christchurch — because we ship NZ-wide and livestreams are viewable anywhere with an internet connection!
Also, a regular BDS book club has to have a minimum of seven members, but WORD Book Club is a great way for people to ‘try-on’ this model of book club as you only need a minimum of three people to participate.
Groups can register their WORD Book Club anytime between now and the start of WORD Festival on 31 August. We’re recommending people get together to watch a livestream or two and use that as opportunity to hold their first book club meeting and distribute book number one, but you can start the club whenever it suits you. We’ll send you one of your chosen books each month until you’ve read five. Anyone interested can access all the details here.
With thanks to BDS’s Renee Blackburn.