9 Sept 2022

The DCU Staff Book Club

Figure 1: DCU staff promote the launch of this year's DCU Staff Book Club (DCU, 2022)

Guest post by Grace O'Connor, who is a member of the Public Services and Outreach team in DCU Library. 

The DCU Staff Book Club is an initiative of the DCU Cultural Arts Office in partnership with DCU HR and DCU Library. A new book is read each month, with monthly competitions for signed copies. A virtual meeting is held at the end of each month, with a live Q&A with the author and specially chosen moderators.

To date we have focused on Irish authors, and our speakers have included such luminaries as Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, and Kevin Barry.

It has proven hugely popular amongst staff, with one member stating “The DCU book club has rekindled my interest in modern Irish literature and connected me with other readers across the DCU community. It is wonderful to hear directly from such well-known authors and also to be introduced to emerging new writers. Thank you so much to the DCU Cultural Arts Office and DCU Library for this terrific initiative.” 

Figure 2: Well-known authors who have featured in the DCU Staff Book Club
(see image sources below)

The DCU Staff Book Club began back in January 2021 as a way to bring the DCU community together through the love of reading. DCU’s Cultural Arts Officer, Marcella Bannon, was always eager to have a staff book club. When Covid-19 hit and DCU staff began working from home, DCU’s Human Resources Department wanted to support staff wellbeing and were hugely open to the idea.

It was crucial for the Library to be involved in the Book Club from the beginning. Meetings between the Library and the Cultural Arts officer began in January 2021, discussing all aspects of how to run a book club for DCU staff entirely online. The Library also wanted to get involved with the new Ireland Reads initiative, and the first ever Book Club meeting coincided with this in February 2021.

Registration for the book club is free, the only requirement is that you are a current DCU staff member. Club members then get monthly emails containing details about the featured book for that month. The emails include information about how to obtain a copy of the book as well as a link to the virtual meetup session.

Figure 3: A signed copy of Nora by
Nuala O'Connor (DCU Library, 2022)

University Librarian, John McDonagh, was very supportive from the beginning of the initiative. He allocated a budget to buy copies of the books for the Library collection that staff could then borrow, as well as copies that could be signed by the author and given away as prizes in the monthly competition.

To date it's been difficult to purchase copies of the books using library systems as supply can be slow. One way to combat this issue would be knowing well in advance which books will be featured, which is something we aim to improve on.

The Library has a dedicated webpage containing all the information about the book club, as well as the details for the current competition. Library staff check that the competition answers are correct and that the entrants are eligible to take part before picking four winners at random. We try to get the signed copies to competition winners before the book club meeting, but this proves difficult due to the aforementioned delays in order times.

The Library’s Research and Teaching directorate provided articles and research on the benefits of reading for the website.

A Facebook group was set up for the club via the Library Facebook page, as a space for members to engage in discussions about the book. We had hoped this would be more popular than it is, but it's difficult to motivate members to engage via this platform.

A decision was taken early on not to record the online sessions, as we wanted staff to be able to relax and enjoy the experience. The exception to this was Pat McCabe whose book ‘Poguemahone’ was featured in May 2021. He was happy for a recording of the session to be made and this was then shared with DCU students undertaking the MA in Creative Writing.

Marcella Bannon, Orla Nic Aodha (Associate Director of Public Services and Outreach), Theresa OFarrell, (DCU President’s Office) the moderator and the author meet online 15-20 minutes before the book club begins, to make sure everything is working well.

Online sessions usually begin with an introduction, a reading from the author and then a Q&A session facilitated by the moderator.

Initially members spoke out at the book club nights but increasingly started to engage via the chat function. It very much depends on the author however, sometimes the chat with the moderator is so good there isn't much time for member contributions!

On average 30 members of DCU staff join the online sessions, but there was a marked drop off in the last sessions as they coincided with exam corrections. Therefore, closer attention will be paid to the academic calendar when planning the new sessions for this season.

This September marks the first in-person Book Club session, beginning with Breaking Point by Edel Coffey, followed by Donal Ryan's The Queen of Dirt Island in October and Ruth & Pen by Emilie Pine in December. This is something all our members are very much looking forward to, and will show how something that was conceived as a solely online event can transition to real life.

Figure 4: Titles featuring in this year's book club
(DCU Library, 2022)

Image attribution

Figure 1:

DCU (2022) DCU staff promote the launch of this year's DCU Staff Book Club [Photograph]. Dublin: DCU

Figure 2: 

(a) Colmtoibin.com (2022) Author image of Colm Toibin and cover image of The Magician. Available at http://www.colmtoibin.com/ (Accessed 9 September 2022).

(b) RCW Literary Agency (2022) Author image of Anne Enright and cover image of Actress. Available at https://www.rcwlitagency.com/authors/enright-anne/ (Accessed 9 September 2022).

(c) O'Mahony, Conor (2022) Author image of Kevin Barry. Available at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/143091/kevin-barry/ (Accessed 9 September 2022).

(d) PenguinRandomHouse (2022) Cover image of That Old Country Music. Available at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/143091/kevin-barry/ (Accessed 9 September 2022).

Figure 3:

DCU Library (2022)  Signed copy of Nora by Nuala O'Connor [Photograph]. Dublin: DCU Library

Figure 4:

DCU Library (2022) Titles featuring in this year's book club [Photograph]. Dublin: DCU Library


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