For our LS 590 Information Service Prototype Group Project, my group used Goodreads, a social book cataloging website, to create a virtual book club prototype. Our mock institutions – Midtown Public Library and Midtown College library – faced a social software dilemma, and we believed that Goodreads was the best Web 2.0 social software tool to solve these two libraries’ “problem.” In our proposal for this project, we imagined that Midtown Public Library and Midtown College Library wanted their patrons to recognize the freedom to read and to checkout banned/challenged books during ALA’s annual Banned Books Week, September 24 to 30, 2017. We also came up with a conflict: both libraries had standing commitments to other displays during the month of September and couldn’t create a banned books-themed display within their small facilities. We proposed that, since these two libraries often collaborated on programming throughout the year, librarians at Midtown Public Library and Midtown College Library would like to create a virtual book club where their patrons could browse the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom’s lists of banned and challenged books, and also find books by genre (e.g., historical fiction, romance, biographies). Our hypothetical librarians thought it would be great if patrons were able to read reviews of banned/challenged books and give opinions of banned/challenged books that they read, stimulating community discussion. We imagined that most of the librarians were not social media-savvy, other than occasionally updating their libraries’ Facebook pages, and thus uncertain what software tool might best fit their need. That’s where our group came to the rescue with our Midtown Reads Banned Books 2017 Goodreads Book Club!
Why did we think that Goodreads was the solution to the posed problem? Goodreads allows the formation of virtual book groups populated by book content selected by moderators, so that staff members of both libraries could be involved. Also, books can be individually tagged, or added to a specific bookshelf in the parlance of Goodreads, enabling patrons to easily identify books by genres/categories/subjects. Goodreads allows book clubs to be public in nature so that patrons can join if they have existing accounts, or create a new, free accounts to participate. Once they join the book club, community members can browse and click on a book cover image to find reviews and likewise contribute their own reviews to Goodreads. We discovered that many public libraries have Goodreads accounts for book clubs and college classes routinely create Goodreads groups, and therefore believed Goodreads best satisfied Midtown libraries’ social software dilemma. Importantly for our hypothetical librarians lacking social media skills, Goodreads has a simple, user-friendly interface that is forgiving of mistakes.
My group enjoyed excellent rapport, which I think is a testament to our bond and friendship as part of the 11zs SLIS cohort. I expected that Ginny and Winnie would contribute their ideas and professional knowledge to the project, and I was not disappointed. Our group stayed in frequent contact via email and also met in the Blackboard classroom, using that live venue to brainstorm and actually create our Goodreads page. While we did work independently on some parts of the project, our book lists for example, we all participated equally in the overall prototype design. I believe our group benefited from developing this prototype because we all envisioned real-life, professional, and personal applications for this social software tool; moreover, we were highly motivated to configure our book club because we wanted to tag our favorite banned books!
Our prototype took shape based upon our proposal, which I wrote and submitted after Ginny and Winnie proofread it and suggested valuable edits. After we received approval, Ginny helpfully recommended we upload any necessary documents to a group Google Drive folder so we could have shared access. Winnie advised that we consider broadening our scope to include various genres of banned or challenged books, so I was responsible for international authors/books, biographies/memoirs, and kids’ books; Ginny added dystopian fiction, historical fiction, and science-fiction/fantasy to our bookshelf; and Winnie chose southern authors and romance/erotic literature. To determine the books to add, we consulted the many ALA banned book lists and tried to select books that would be commonly available in both public libraries and academic libraries’ popular reading collections.
Once we selected our books, we met in the Blackboard classroom where Ginny created our Goodreads book club account, Winnie and I joined as moderators, and we began working on the group settings. We decided to add a link to ALA’s Banned and Challenged Books website so that patrons in the “Midtown” community could learn more about banned/challenged books, and Winnie came up with the basis of our book club rules. We liked the idea of a Goodreads reading challenge with prizes to encourage community participation in the book club and hence invented “How Many Banned Books Can You Read?” Significantly, we agreed that our virtual book club and challenge should be open to patrons of all ages. We individually logged into Goodreads, created bookshelves, and tagged books to them.
We embellished our Goodreads book club, with Winnie adding an event based upon her public library planning expertise; Ginny contributing a poll, discussion question, and community bookshelf (to which we each added our favorite banned book); and me inserting a YouTube video about the ALA’s top ten challenged books of 2016 as well as writing our reading challenge. Our group did encounter several issues, but we worked together to solve them. We were forced to add a disclaimer, which Ginny worded and I posted, because someone joined our group believing it was real! Also, Winnie helped to revise our reading challenge to make it more manageable. Notably, Ginny realized that we need to cross-tag one book, or else risk confusing patrons by having multiple “copies” of the same book displayed among our bookshelves. The functionality of our bookshelves was enhanced because, by cross-tagging, patrons could see how one book had multiple aspects to which people might object. Finally, we thought the book club homepage looked plain, so I found and added a masthead of banned/challenged book covers which made the website much more visually appealing.
Overall, we used Goodreads to design a book club prototype to inspire community reading and discussion of banned/challenged books. This social software platform achieves a virtual means of outreach to Midtown, but also permits tremendous community engagement through such options as the reading challenge, poll, and Midtown’s Favorite Banned Books bookshelf. We tried to incorporate diverse reading tastes into our bookshelves, and we believed the many popular books tagged and displayed would provoke contemplation among book club members. Finally, Winnie’s enthusiasm for learning about Goodreads was infectious and her attention to detail was much appreciated. Ginny’s tech-know-how and analytical eye were tremendously advantageous, helping us to streamline the website and troubleshoot problems. Both these ladies also firmly kept our audience – Midtown Public Library, Midtown College Library, and their patrons – in mind during our planning, which I feel should be the ultimate objective of any group project. I was pleased and privileged to work with Winnie and Ginny!