Johnson County Bolstering its Book Club Outreach

left, copies of The Guncle in a clear backpack. right, Gregg Winsor stands in front of a shelf of books

Left: a Book Club in a Bag; Right: Readers Advisory Librarian Gregg Winsor

The book discussion groups that Johnson County Library hosts monthly in its branches and online are thriving, by offering patrons a wonderful way to meet and share insights about thought-provoking books.

But the Library recognizes there are many other Johnson County book clubs that could also benefit from access to a convenient set of 12-15 books ready for borrowing. So Readers Advisory Librarian Gregg Winsor is taking his stockpile of official book club selections and preparing to offer these “Book Clubs in a Bag” to external book groups eager to check out and discuss popular titles, such as The Guncle by Steven Rowley or The Topeka School by Ben Lerner.

About 15 books of the same title will be placed in clear plastic backpacks that have handles and wheels and are easily transportable. These kits should be available in early summer to browse at Central Resource Library. Patrons will also be able to find and reserve them through the Library's web catalog

“I want them to be used by patrons,” Winsor explained. “This is the foundation for moving from an internal-only circulating system to the public. We bought them for internal use, and after they’ve made the rounds once or twice, then we can move them out to the patrons."

Winsor believes this outreach will be welcomed by Johnson County’s many ad hoc book clubs. “I really want to make sure the public has access to these titles that have already been vetted and are highly discussable,” he said. “So people can check them out for their own book groups.” 

Initially, about 20 different kits will be available. That selection should grow as the internal book club collection turns over. The patron checking out the kits would be responsible for their return.

While Johnson County Library plans this new outreach, it continues to offer its own popular internal book clubs that meet regularly, each with its own Library facilitator. ​​​​​​​

One club meets via Zoom, for people who feel most comfortable gathering virtually. Others meet in person at Corinth, Gardner, Leawood, Lenexa, Monticello and Shawnee. A new book group launched in January and gathers every other month at Lenexa, focusing on science and technology.

The Library works hard to choose worthwhile titles.

​​​​​​​“We pick out selections with an eye toward modernity/currency,” Winsor said, adding that they also pick titles that are diverse, engaging and likely to prompt lively discussions.

​​​​​​​As Readers Advisory Librarian, Winsor helps oversee the book discussion groups. He also works closely with a committee of about a dozen staffers devoted to helping patrons find books that will captivate them.

“What we want to do is make the Library collection more accessible to people, bring it out, highlighting things,” he said. “So the book groups are one important part of that. I also do online presentations called Book Parties, where I talk about books that are coming out soon that people may not know about.”

Winsor realizes the world is constantly flooded with new books, so recommendations and reviews on the Library website are useful when patrons feel overwhelmed. Winsor has a passion to help patrons expand their horizons and discover new titles and genres that will enrich their lives.

“People are getting their recommendations from a lot of different places, but the Library wants to be part of that,” he said. “We’re not trying to sell you anything. We’re just trying to connect you with books you will like.”