No longer caricaturable as sshhh-ing, stuffy vaults, public libraries are increasingly warm community hubs responding to local interests and needs, encouraging and facilitating community conversation. Extending the benefits that reading together fosters, the Radford Public Library does just that with its Brown Bag Book Club.
The club has been meeting for years, reading a book a month, then coming together to talk about it on the second Wednesday at lunchtime. The next meeting is Nov. 8.
“We try to mix it up and have variation, reading comedy, drama, history, and non-fiction. And we look for books we might not seek out on – or even be aware of – on our own,” Aaron Jarrells, the library’s Circulation Supervisor and Brown Bag Book Club host said.
The November selection is “Men We Reaped” by Jesmyn Ward, a powerful memoir. “Some books are easier –the fiction is easier and readable in a month. This one [Ward] deals with heavy, serious, but timely and relevant subjects and takes a little longer to digest,” he said. Jarrells is listening to the audio book and reading in order to finish – and thoughtfully consider – the book to talk about it with the group at the Nov. 8 meeting.
A librarian, Jarrells recently received his master’s degree in library science exploring “how libraries can remain relevant.” Radford Public Library is clearly pursuing that mission.
The library grew a vegetable garden last summer while it housed a program to feed food-insecure kids. Elected representatives come to the library once a month to engage the community.
Many things to many people, the library provides meeting spaces, shows films, hosts food-focused events, and processes passports.
“Day-to-day people come in to work on resumes. We proctor distance learning tests, and we have notaries,” Jarrells said.
About six to ten people come to Brown Bag Book Club. Lunch is optional. Aaron provides the coffee and sometimes people bring desserts. The club chooses the books they read for the year around August.
“We get together and people throw out ideas, we look for a book coming up that looks like it’s going to be popular soon,” he said.
Jarrells says that, while he looks for books that the members may not have seen or not been exposed to, not every book is a home run.
“We read a book on The Underground Railroad was a great subject matter, but it was like reading a spreadsheet. We ended up talking about other things.”
The December book is ‘Ego is the Enemy’ by Ryan Holiday Jarrells describes it as a helpful resource for dealing with perceived victimhood.
“A lot of times, things happen to us, and we want to focus on who’s to blame. It’s a topic seems especially relevant at this time.”
Outreach is multimedia and the library made a little video of Jarrells reviewing the Holiday book posting it to their website.
“It was one-take with little preparation. We’re dipping our toes in getting the book club message out to the community.”
Surprisingly diverse, the book club is not collection of identical people. Most are well-read, Jarrells said, “but none of us come from the same genre.” The group is made of history buffs, and people who like detective novels, WWII history and literary-minded fiction. Jarrells likes Tudor history.
“I think that it enhances community relations and bring a diverse group of people together. It’s always surprising to see how people bring their life experiences to the table and how that colors their expectations and opinions on the books. You really get to know people. This book club is now very close-knit. We share more and more of our personal experiences and how they relate to the books we’re discussing.”
Reading for pleasure has been found by many studies to reduce stress, heighten empathy, improve students’ test scores, slow the onset of dementia, and inspire people to be more active and aware citizens.
“Anyone is welcome. We love to have new members. In the past year, we’ve added a couple. Everyone’s input is welcome. Expect about an hour of fun, engaging conversation.”
The next meeting Nov. 8, from 12–1 p.m. For more information, contact the library at 731-3621.