In May 2019, I wrote a TP Soapbox column to share the results of BookBrowse’s “Inner Lives of Book Clubs” survey. In October, 17 months later and eight months after the start of a global pandemic, BookBrowse revisited book groups to see how they’re doing. And I’m happy to report that, based on 3,417 responses from current book club members, they are mostly proving resilient and flexible, and many are making changes that will stick with them for the long haul:
• Three-quarters of respondents belong to book clubs that currently meet. Some members have reported being sick, quarantined and dying among loved ones, and many feel drained by current events, but it is precisely these factors that contribute to half of them saying their groups are even stronger. important to them than they were last year.
• Of respondents to groups that were meeting in person, 65% said their groups are now meeting virtually (96% of those on Zoom) and 17% are meeting outdoors, with some researching new winter locations.
• A quarter of those meeting now say their turnout is down from last year. But 14% of virtual groups have an increase in attendance, mainly due to the fact that members who had moved permanently or live elsewhere for part of the year can join virtually.
The pandemic has prompted clubs and members to embrace technologies they previously shunned (like e-books and virtual meetings), with many groups proactively helping members master these new skills. Respondents who come together greatly appreciate that technology allows them to stay connected and maintain a sense of community:
• In general, adoption of the technology is seen as positive, with Zoom being described as a “lifeline”. However, some clubs are struggling with technical issues and virtual etiquette, and many groups are temporarily short of members who can’t or won’t meet virtually.
• Virtual book discussions tend to be less fluid. This is seen as a positive by some, who say their group discussions are more focused and inclusive due to fewer side conversations; others lack the organic flow of an in-person discussion.
• The vast majority of respondents look forward to seeing each other again in person when conditions allow, but many of those currently meeting virtually expect to retain a virtual element. Only 3% expect all of their meetings to be entirely virtual in the future, while 29% plan to continue using video technology to allow absent members to join in-person meetings or host meetings. entire meetings virtually sometimes, for example when the weather conditions are bad. . In our previous research, we found that some former or potential book club members were not in book clubs due to child care costs, frequent travel, disabilities, and other barriers. Virtual or hybrid clubs would likely be attractive options for many of these people.
• Another benefit is that some groups have discovered how easy it is to invite authors to join them on Zoom.
The events of 2020 have also had an effect on book supply.
• Many respondents turn to their library’s eBook collections, with Hoopla frequently cited as a favorite for its unlimited downloads. However, using technology has been a challenge for some, who are eager to return to borrowing printed books.
• A fifth say they have bought books this year that they would have borrowed before, and many are sharing more books than in previous years.
• Politics is a tough subject for many American bands. While 37% of US respondents said their group discussed politics in general this year, 27% said politics was not discussed in their meetings. This figure is up from 11% in 2018.
Clubs that meet in public appear to have been more affected by the pandemic than those that meet in private. For example, 24% of respondents who do not currently meet would normally meet in a library, compared to 15% of those in groups who currently meet. Those in groups that don’t reunite are just as likely as those that do reunite to say they were happy in their group in 2019, and they look forward to seeing each other again soon.
The full ‘Lockdown Book Clubs’ survey is available at bookbrowse.com/wp
Davina Morgan-Witts is the editor of BookBrowse, a website founded in 1997 for readers and bibliophiles.
A version of this article originally appeared in the 11/30/2020 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Book clubs in confinement