Radio 2 Book Club: The role of library staff in the shortlist selection

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Annastasia Ward, Reader Services Development Manager at Essex Libraries talks us through her experience of being on the panel of library and Reading Agency staff that shortlists the book titles for the Radio 2 Book Club.

Finding the right book

Library staff love to recommend things to read. From a brilliant but forgotten novel to a really useful website to a free e-magazine. It’s great to find the right thing for the right person.

So recommending titles for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club is right up our street. Publishers nominate lots of lovely new books that think will be great for book club listeners to read and discuss. Library staff read them and think about what might work best.

Who will be reading the book?

Usually you’d consider what an individual might enjoy reading. Here, various family members might listen together so their individual preferences need to be considered. Will the title interest an older man, a young mum, a teenager and her much younger brother? Does it have broad appeal without being dull?

Then there’s the question of suitability for younger listeners or those who prefer their stories on the gentle side. Is there too much swearing? Or sex? Are descriptions of violence excessively graphic? How gruesome does a murder have to be before it rules the book out?

However there is still a need for enough controversy in the story, characters and themes to spark a debate. After all the best books are the ones that no one can agree on. The ones that provoke fierce arguments as to their various merits.

What makes a good read for the Radio 2 Book Club?

Then comes the trickier bit for library staff. Selecting books for a radio show adds an unexpected and unusual dimension. Something that is a brilliant read might not, on consideration, be so good for radio. It might have lots of characters which could be confusing for the listener or a plot far too complicated to explain easily. The prose might be lovely to read on paper but does not work well when read out loud, or a writer might make use of too many quirky footnotes or diagrams and illustrations that would be difficult to describe verbally.

The final selection

Debate at selection meetings is fierce and a brilliant reminder of one of the reasons why reading matters. Books and the conversations they provoke matter because they engage people and get them to think about other experiences of life. It’s one of the reasons libraries matter too. Libraries are there to connect people with other people and their experiences, whether it’s to share knowledge, be entertained or discover your community.

Get involved

Have you been reading along with the Radio 2 Book Club this year? Which of the book choices stood out for your group? Do you have a story to tell about your reading group discussions and how you select your titles? Do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.
Share your thoughts on Twitter, or on Facebook, or by posting a comment in the space below.

Find out more about the Radio 2 Book Club and more detail on how the selection panel works.

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