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Athenaeum launches ‘Librarians Discuss’ virtual program

WESTFIELD-A new virtual “adventure” is underway this fall at the Westfield Athenaeum in response to input from patrons.

On the first and third Wednesdays of each month from 7:30 – 8:30 p.m., a group of librarians will discuss a variety of book and life-related topics. Patrons can either join live on Facebook and be part of the discussion or watch the episode later on the Athenaeum’s Facebook page.

“Librarians Discuss grew out of our ‘Live Reader’s Advisory’ events,” said Gretchen Hohmeyer, digital services librarian. “I realized that people were really responding not just to book recommendations, but also to discussion.”

Gretchen Hohmeyer, digital services librarian at the Westfield Athenaeum, along with Anne Brossard, adult circulation assistant, and Olivia Eberli, head of youth services, discuss logistics for the new Librarians Discuss program. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Initially, Hohmeyer said the program seemed “like a dream,” and then became a reality after brainstorming ideas with Anne Brossard, adult circulation assistant, and Olivia Eberli, head of youth services.

Hohmeyer serves as moderator for this new programming and will appear in most episodes.

In October, Hohmeyer will be joined by Brossard, Mary Hoth, children’s library page, Becky Blackburn, public services librarian, and Kelsey Socha, head of adult services.

“Other staff members will hopefully join in as we go,” said Hohmeyer.

This month, topics have ranged from how COVID-19 has changed our reading to YA (young adult) books for boys.

“In October, we will be discussing how the books we read as children impacted our adult reading and adult lives,” said Hohmeyer, adding, “We will also be discussing horror books, what’s scary and how has COVID changed it?”

Hohmeyer said she is also taking suggestions from patrons and staff members on future topics.

The only requirement to participate in the live forum is to have a Facebook account, according to Hohmeyer.

“Those who do not have a Facebook account can watch the recording on our Facebook page after the event has finished,” said Hohmeyer, adding the programming will be available on the Facebook page indefinitely.

Hohmeyer explained that the program will follow a “flexible discussion.”

“We have a few talking points that we want to hit, but then we let the discussion go where it will,” she said. “We hope that people in the comments will raise questions or add information that gives extra levels to the discussion.”

Hohmeyer noted that some topics might have more “presentation” of material, such as the YA for boys discussion.

“Anne, Olivia and I have various points of entry from our professional lives that people might not be aware of, but other times it is simply a communal experience,” she said.

Hohmeyer said the program is intended as an “all-ages event.”

“The age group interested might vary based on topic,” she said. “I expect that it will be of most interest to the 12 and over crowd, but any curious individual will be able to watch the various episodes later if they want to learn about the topic.”

Hohmeyer said of all of the programs she has created for the fall, “Librarians Discuss” is one of her favorites.

“The casual, conversational aspect of the presentation makes it feel as though me and my friends have all settled around to chat about a topic of interest instead of me and co-workers setting up a formal event,” said Hohmeyer. “Adding in the live comments of our patrons gives us access to so many other voices and ideas.”

Hohmeyer added that staff members are eager to share some special or personal book and/or life knowledge with patrons.

“It’s a chance for us to have the kinds of conversations we don’t normally get to have with each other or with patrons when the library is open as normal,” said Hohmeyer.

Eberli shared a similar sentiment.

“I’m excited because it gives us a chance to talk about topics that are important to us and share our passion with Westfield,” said Eberli. “It also gives me a chance to connect with our patrons and my colleagues in a way we can’t always do at work. While I would love to chat with patrons at work, we often don’t have the time to really get into a conversation. Librarians Discuss gives us this opportunity and I’m so excited.”

Socha also shared her enthusiasm for the new programming.

“I’m incredibly excited to get to talk about one of my favorite topics in literature – what scares us as readers and why?,” said Socha. “It’s a timely topic for October, and it’s always interesting to see why readers choose to explore scary books or movies, or why they might not be interested at all. I’m even more excited to get to explore this conversation with my colleagues and the Westfield community – it feels like a rare joy to get to take the time to discuss books and reader’s advisory at this level, and with so many friends.”

Hoth concurred.

“I’m excited about Librarians Discuss because I love hearing others talking about books in a meaningful way and joining in,” said Hoth. “Also, I like the themes we’ve started with and will be doing. It’s a wonderful interaction with patrons that we don’t get to do often enough.”

For details on upcoming topics or more information, visit westath.org and click on the calendar, or contact Hohmeyer via email to [email protected]

Brossard noted that after the library closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, librarians found a way to still connect with patrons through Facebook Live programming.

“Through those programs, we discovered that there were so many issues that mattered to us and our patrons,” said Brossard. “The conversations expanded the books we wanted to read. They also showed us how rich a resource we have in our colleagues and the people who use the library.”

Brossard added that Librarians Discuss will be an “amazing opportunity” for staff members and patrons to explore issues that impact all of us.

“I am stunned how much I enjoy discussing and trying to understand issues with my wickedly smart colleagues and patrons,” said Brossard. “I am also thrilled about all of the new best oks I will be introduced to.”

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