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Running a workplace reading group

There are lots of different types of reading group, and they meet in all sort of different places – in the library, at the pub, at members’ homes or online. But what about hosting a reading group at work? It’s a brilliant way of getting to know your colleagues outside of a work setting, introducing each other to new books and of course, encouraging everyone to read more. It can also be very beneficial for employees wellbeing.

We caught up with a workplace reading group, Pearson English Team, to hear about how they run their work reading group. The group love everything book-related, and some have backgrounds as English graduates or English teachers. The group has been involved in some projects with us here at The Reading Agency, including shadowing the International Booker Prize in 2021 (reading At Night All Blood is Black) and the Booker Prize (reading Ducks, Newburyport) in 2019.

Tell us a bit about your reading group

The Pearson English Team reading group have read together since 2019. We are a ‘sporadic’ group. We interact regularly in different forums and tend to be spurred on by big reading events (the Booker Prize or National Poetry Day) to read something together.

When do you meet?

When we’ve finished reading, we schedule a meeting during the working day to discuss the book. As ‘English’ is our ‘business’, this seems entirely appropriate.

How do you encourage people to join?

We’re all readers, so we don’t have much trouble getting willing participants. The only issue is sometimes that individuals are already reading for another group/purpose and may not want to interrupt their current book. We’ve been lucky enough to be provided with sets of books to read sometimes, which makes the whole experience of reading together extra enjoyable.

What do people get out of a work-based reading group?

Although we all work for the same organisation, we are all in different teams with different agendas. Reading together means that we engage with each other on a more personal level. A response to a text can be nothing other than personal, so talking about a book reminds us of the ‘person’ beyond the work role. It makes work more ‘human’. During the Covid pandemic, when we’ve all worked remotely for a long time, this human connectedness through reading has been particularly welcome.

How do you choose your books?

We tend to read in response to a particular initiative. Across the group, our usual reading taste is quite varied, so each reader brings a different context to the discussion of a text we’re sharing. Some of the books we’ve read have demanded something of us that goes beyond the challenge of our usual ‘reading for pleasure’ books, such as ‘Ducks Newburyport’ which is over 1000 pages long. Reading together therefore does take us to books that we might otherwise not encounter.

Tips for setting up your workplace reading group

If you want to set up your own workplace reading group, we have some tips to help!

  • You can meet at lunchtime or after work, in your workplace or somewhere nearby. See if you’re able to use a meeting room or social space in your building, and encourage people to bring drinks and snacks.
  • Let your colleagues know that you’re starting a group through email, posters or an online message – whatever you use to contact each other!
  • Decide how often your group wants to meet. Many groups meet monthly or quarterly, but it’s up to you!
  • The first meeting can be very relaxed, without putting any pressure on anyone to have read a book in advance. You can chat about what books you enjoy and share recommendations. Some people may come along because they don’t often read but want to read more, so make sure that everyone feels welcome, no matter their reading habits.
  • What will you read? Take suggestions from members, use the booklists on Reading Groups for Everyone, or take a look at our noticeboard. This is where publishers and our other partners share offers of books for your group to read and review. You’ll receive the books for free, and all we ask is that you share your reading with us.
  • Where will you get your books from? We love public libraries, and they love reading groups! You can borrow anything from the library, and many have reading group lists – the books that they have enough copies of for your whole group to borrow. Just ask a librarian what they can do for your group! We’d recommend joining a library near your workplace. If you choose to buy your books, you can support The Reading Agency and independent bookshops at no additional cost to you by buying books from Bookshop.org or Hive using the links on our website.

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