FINLAND
Sharing thoughts in Book Sleuthing circles

Reading circles are a familiar way for everyone to enjoy literature, as is ‘Book Sleuthing’. Two years ago these two activities were combined at the Seinäjoki Public Library – Provincial Library, and the result was a splendid tool to inspire adults to read.

Hannele Puhtimäki, who is responsible for the library’s adult section, explains where the idea to combine Book Sleuthing and reading circles to form a Book Sleuthing Circle came from. She says: “In previous years, we provided Book Sleuthing at the Seinäjoki Public Library for adults during various events.When we were considering our activities for 2008, we fancied the idea that if we offered Book Sleuthing on a regular basis, we may acquire more participants.”

Setting up a Book Sleuthing Circle would also allow us to bring something new to the book-sleuthing situation. We wanted a more open, interactive situation instead of the traditional one in which the Book Sleuth makes recommendations and the audience listens. We wanted a situation in which the Book Sleuths would sit around the table together with the participants and tell about the books they think would be of interest. The Book Sleuthing Circle meets six times a week at the Seinäjoki Public Library. This year, however, we will be organizing a seventh meeting in which a local author will also participate. The Book Sleuthing Circles usually lasts 1-1.5 hours and 10-12 books are recommended during that time. There are always two Book Sleuths, which generates discussion between them as well. There is an established number of about ten participants in the circles, which is an ideal number with regard to discussion. Most of the participants are middle-aged women, but recently younger adults have ventured out and taken part. When everyone is sitting in a small circle and there is a book in the middle, saying what one has to say is easier, but it is also possible to just listen. Puhtimäki comments: “Discussion in the circles is extremely varied; we may discuss the themes in a book, the memories it may have stirred, or the simil-arities a book may have to another, as well as an author’s life. Sometimes the discussion may veer far off from the book itself, but the next book takes participants back to the beginning.” She adds: “One time we held a Book Sleuthing Circle for just three people, but it was by no means a bad experience. On the contrary, the participants engaged in an extremely in-depth discussion about the books!”

Preparing for the Book Sleuthing session, without a doubt, takes time. Although the Book Sleuths read the books at home, preparing the recommendations for an evening takes place during a normal workday.Writing 5-7 recommen-dations can take 1-2 workdays. The book-sleuthing shifts vary, however, and during the course of one year the members of staff prepare just two Book Sleuthing Circles per person. The books to be recommended are usually based on what the Book Sleuths fancy. Puhtimäki states, “Usually people would rather recommend books that have somehow moved them. It would be more difficult to tell about a book that was completely meaningless. Of course, you also have to consider the participants in the circle, but even though the group may be very homogeneous, you still have to have different books that represent different genres. Sometimes, when choosing books, a Book Sleuth may go by a certain theme, which becomes the connecting idea for the recommendations.” We have received an enormous amount of positive feedback on the Book Sleuthing Circles from the people who have taken part in them. For many people, having someone pick out something for them to read from the abundance of literature available makes life easier. Moreover, as marke-ting tends to concentrate on a few titles by well-known authors, participants in the Book Sleuthing Circles receive information about books that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Despite the amount of reading the Book Sleuthing Circles requires of the library staff, they willingly participate in them. It is nice to tell about a book that meant a lot to you and to notice that you can spark an interest for the same book in others. Puhtimäki explains: “It feels like every time is, in its own way, the best. You can always sense the cosy, warm and cordial atmosphere and the connection to the participants, which is what makes it a fine experi-ence.When people have a mutual love and interest in books, they can all feel equal in relation to each other as a group without spotlighting or underestimating themselves.”

Mervi Heikkilä
Director of libraries, Seinäjoki

mervi.heikkila AT seinajoki.fi

Director of libraries, Seinäjoki