Telephone Book Club

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This article comes from the 2008 National Year of Reading's Help with Reading Volunteering Guide published by the 2008 National Year of Reading in October 2008.

Members of a tele-conference book club

In March 2008 Birmingham City Council’s Library Services at Home launched a new pilot initiative with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP), a freestanding programme within Community Services Volunteers (CSV), called a tele-conference book club. The project aimed to provide a book club for housebound older readers unable to physically at tend normal book clubs. Carol Flood, Project advisor for RSVP West Midlands, explains how the project works.

About 2000 housebound residents are registered with Library Services at Home and each receives a box of books once a month, delivered to their home.

After canvassing a large proportion of the ‘at home’ service, the library staff identified six people who were interested in participating in the tele-conference book club. A member of library staff and one of the club members were given training in how to conduct a telephone conference. This training enabled the club member to take on the voluntary role of the group’s facilitator.

A first book for discussion was chosen and circulated to the club members as part of their normal delivery and in a format appropriate to each of them (talking books, large print etc).

A date and time was agreed for the first hourlong book club meeting and the telephone numbers for each of the members was supplied to the conference network provider. At the appointed time each member was called and linked into the group discussion. Each member of the book club uses their own telephone to listen and chat with the other members of the book club.

There are no phone charges for the members, and telephone numbers are treated as confidential. Group members all have a laminated sheet featuring everyone’s names and photographs, to give the tele-conferencing chat a more friendly and personal feel.

The club has been meeting regularly once a month and in May some members were collected by the library minibus to meet up for a cup of tea and a face-to-face chat at the library base.

The group has now expanded to eight members (the maximum number for the group to ensure all members have input to the discussion). As the group becomes more established, we anticipate there will be less input from the RSVP Project Advisor in organising the conference calls, and more input from the group itself. This will be demonstrated by the group managing itself, with support on hand from the library service, who will supply and deliver the books each month in the required format.

As the club expands and becomes more independent, a second facilitator from within the group will be trained to support the main facilitator in organising calls, overseeing the discussions and other administrative areas of support.

The facilitators also have to think carefully about the book before the telephone conference, so they can pose questions to generate discussion if needed. They also need to ensure all group members are brought into the discussion so no one feels excluded or overlooked.

The impact on the individuals within the group has been inspiring. All members agree the tele-book club has given them something to

look forward to each month, with new friends who have the same interest in books to chat to. And all from their own living rooms.

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