I feel like 2020 could be remembered as “The Year of Living Virtually”. OK, that might be an overstatement. The employees of Salina Public Library actually did live (or work, anyway) virtually from the middle of March to the middle of May. We communicated with each other through email, text, Google Hangouts and Zoom. We watched a lot of webinars and we brainstormed ideas for future library services. Also, we thought of how we would be able to eventually let the public back into the library and keep everyone safe.

Since I moderate the library’s Monday Night Book Discussion, I had a lot of people ask me “Are you going to have a virtual book discussion?”, “Is there going to be an online book club?” and frankly, my first thought was simply, “Huh?” So I started to think about what a virtual book discussion would be like. Most of the webinars I’d attended were a lot like classrooms — watching a single presenter or a panel of presenters take their turns talking — but I certainly didn’t like the idea of attending some kind of literary lecture. Also, some of the Zoom meetings I attended were crowded affairs with people talking over one another and interruptions and false starts and having to mess with Mute and Video and Chat and Private Messaging, etc. 

I puzzled over the notion of how a virtual platform could translate from what had been for several years monthly book discussions held in cozy library conference rooms with a dozen or so people sitting in a circle snacking on brownies, chips and M&Ms while talking about books. I did some research and watched webinars on conducting virtual book discussions and learned about a wide range of possibilities. There are many innovative and exciting ideas out there.

We didn’t get the green light for virtual programming at the library until mid-summer and by that time I had already cancelled four discussions on books I’d been looking forward to reading and talking about. In August we hosted our first virtual book discussion for “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. We used the Zoom format and nine people attended — some familiar faces and some new — and it went very well. The discussion lasted about 90 minutes, attendees were courteous, the talk was lively and involved, and even though being online felt different, it worked. Since then we’ve had two more successful virtual book discussions and we plan on keeping this format going for the upcoming discussions.

For more information, please check out Salina Public Library’s Book Discussions webpage. There you will find links to register for upcoming discussions. After you register, you will be sent an email with a Zoom link and passcode for entering the meeting the night of the discussion from your computer, phone, tablet or other Zoom-capable device. 

What to expect on the night of the discussion

After a brief introduction, we go around the “room” asking participants to rate the book and briefly talk about their experience reading the book and then we open the meeting up for general discussion. Talk a lot, talk a little, ask questions, turn your video on or off, microphone on or off, use the chat function, enjoy yourself!

2021 will be another year of change — hopefully back to “normal”, but also a mix of the old and the new. We’re anticipating beginning with the virtual and moving back to the in-person discussions when it becomes safe to gather once again, but who knows? Virtual Book Discussions may become popular enough to keep that going as well — we’ll see.

In 2021 we will be reading and talking about the following books (in alphabetical order by title):

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson 

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf

Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Please join us! All of these titles are available to be checked out in physical book format and for some in physical audiobook format in the Library and all in digital eBook and some in eAudiobook format through the Sunflower eLibrary or Hoopla services.