Leading a Book Club Discussion

Libraries are best known as book repositories; places that you can find and use physical books. Even as that is changing (as libraries and patrons more fully embrace ebooks), libraries remain the top spot in order to find people with whom to discuss books. Whether a book has disgusted or delighted, a reader usually has something to say about it. Books clubs can be great places to make friends, or to stretch your imagination. And book clubs are no longer restricted to just libraries! Many people start book clubs among friends, at church, or among other organizations. These book clubs may read a range of fiction, or focus on specific genres, or only nonfiction. The following information may help you lead a book club or become a more involved participant.


  1. Read the Book. I’m not trying to be funny; reading the chosen book and finishing ahead of time is an important step in preparing for the discussion ahead. Of course, if you’re like me and ran out of time to read the book, consider taking the time to read the beginning chapter and the ending, as well as making note of chapter titles and character names. Finally, look over reviews online to get a feel of the books strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Write down important page numbers – If there are parts of the book that made an impact on you or that you think may come up in discussion, write down the page numbers so that you can access the passages easily while preparing and leading your book club discussion.
  3. Locate a discussion guide or write your own questions. When writing your own book club discussion questions, avoid questions that are too general, like “What did you think of the book?” Also avoid questions that have yes or no answers. You want to ask questions that are open ended and help people talk about themes and how the book relates to deeper issues.

Leading the Discussion

  1. Let others answer first. By letting others in the book club answer first, you will promote conversation and help everyone feel like their opinions matter. Sometimes people may need to think before they answer. Part of being a good leader is being comfortable with silence. Don’t feel like you have to jump in if no one answers immediately. If needed, clarify, expand or rephrase the question.
  2. Make connections between comments. By connecting people’s comments to the questions, you’ll help build momentum in the conversation. You don’t have to follow your prewritten questions. Be spontaneous, and adjust to work with the conversation and not against it. You do not have to ask each question on your list either.
  3. Occasionally direct questions toward quiet people. You don’t want to put anyone on the spot, but you want everyone to know their opinions are valued. If you have a few talkative people who always jump right in, directing a question to a specific person may help draw out the quieter people (and let the loud people know it is time to give someone else a turn through words or body language).
  4. Stay on topic. A little off topic conversation is fine, but you also want to respect the fact that people have read the book and expect to talk about it. As the facilitator, it is your job to recognize tangents and bring the discussion back to the book.
  5. Wrap up the discussion by rating the book. One good way to wrap up a conversation and help people summarize their opinions of the book is to ask each person to rate the book on a scale of one to five.

Wrap Up

  1. Book choices and reminders. Before your book club gathering ends, remind the participants of the next book you will gather to discuss. Choose books, if necessary, for following months. You can choose books from a list prepared by a single book club member, or from choices suggested spontaneously by the group, or a combination thereof.
  2. Reminder email. Send an email or newsletter to participants within a week of your meeting reminding them, once again, of the next book the group plans to read.
  3. Prepare list of books for next meeting. Depending on the organization of your book club, this step will vary. Perhaps one person selects a range of books, or this duty is rotated among members. Maybe your club reads only one genre, or a different genre each month.
  4. Optional. If your book club is part of the library, you may choose to provide the books for participants. If so, you will need to gather the copies of the books within your library, or order them from a shared system of libraries. Make sure these copies are located in a central location that is easy for staff and patrons to access. Please remember to clearly communicate any procedures and expectations to your coworkers.

There are a dozen different ways to organize a book club, and all of them are right. Have fun, stretch your imagination, and meet new people. Read things you might never have considered before. Good luck!

Information found in this newsletter was borrowed in part from the About.com Wiki “How to Lead a Book Club Discussion.

About shortlibrarian

I am a woman working in the Twin Cities as a programming Librarian.
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