5 May 2020

Book talk, community connections and conversations are moving online as Christchurch City Libraries’ virtual book clubs ease isolation for hundreds of people.

Staff say they have been “blown away” by how well members have adapted to the online approach to the regular in-library book groups using a video-conferencing platform.

Christchurch City Council Head of Libraries and Information Carolyn Robertson says that the “older members have also been keen to take on the challenge, and delighted by the feeling of connection”.

“Our book groups are very diverse – from 25-year-olds to people in their 80s,” Ms Robertson says. “We are all adapting to our rapidly changing environment. We are all ‘meeting’ in each other’s homes, seeking some normality.

“Our older members are quite rightly proud of the huge steps they have made in conquering new technology to also make the move online.

“A 70-year-old book group member has told our staff that this is the one good thing to come out of the lockdown. She now plans to schedule online meetings with her children in Britain.

“In the future, we may find that there is a demand for both online and in-library book groups.”

Christchurch City Libraries staff organise the book groups, facilitate the meetings, take part in the discussion, and recommend great reads.

“Moving online has enabled our groups to continue during lockdown, ensuring that libraries still have a presence in people’s lives,” Ms Robertson says.

“We have also been able to encourage our members to expand their reading with eBooks and audio books available through the library.”

If people are not confident about using the technology, library staff have been talking book club members through the process over the phone and doing a test run.

A range of book groups are “gathering” online, including those focused on fiction and non-fiction and groups for migrants who are learning English or prefer to chat in a particular language.

People can easily join in by contacting library staff to arrange an invitation to a “virtual book group meeting” that best meets their reading interests.

One club member has told staff that the “group enables connection, discovery and friendship – empowering people to share different perspectives and backgrounds across the community”.

Another club member has joined from Australia, explaining that the online gathering “seems to bring me back to New Zealand”.

Ms Robertson says that for some people “the virtual book clubs have provided a social connection at a time when normal connections are impossible”.