Bringing community together through books

This article, by Kelsey Blackman, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on January 21, 2024.

"Books are a uniquely portable magic." – Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I chose a Stephen King quote to express how I feel about books. Books can open a doorway to a new world. Whether it’s an epic sci-fi adventure in space or a cozy mystery set in a small town, books can inspire you, hurt you, make you think, cause you to grow, and help you love more. They’re an escape, a mirror, a friend, a necessity. Books are the reason I wanted to become a librarian.

While there are many other important aspects of my job, my most fun and fundamental task is working with and around books. Being able to connect patrons to new books, old favorite books, and books they’d never try otherwise brings me the utmost joy. It reminds me, when times are tough or stressful, that I’m very lucky to have this job.

It’s a common misconception that we library staff read all day (boy do I wish!). However, I can safely say that my desk is always a book fort—or sometimes a book castle, depending on how high the stacks go. These books are for the As the Page Turns Book Club, a new program called Treats & Titles, and for our displays here at W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library.

When I first started working at this location, the community was asking about a book club. As the Page Turns Book Club was born soon after, virtually at first, and now is held both in-person and virtually on Zoom every third Wednesday of the month. We read modern fiction in an array of genres. We are reading The Celebrants by Steven Rowley to kick off the year. We’ve read historical fiction, mystery/thriller, horror, magical realism, and more! While I thought participants would be coming to read and discuss books, I quickly realized that the true reason they want to come is to connect with members of their community.

Our newest adult and teen program, Treats & Titles, lets patrons learn about different books in our collection while enjoying some free treats! We’ve discussed more broad genres like science fiction, as well as more specific topics like books set in coffee shops. Most of the titles highlighted are also available to check out immediately after the program’s end. They can also take bookmarks and flyers of the book titles, so they can place holds later.

One of the most fun and rewarding things I get to do is help create displays. We’ve had great success with many of our displays, especially when they’re interactive. A few years ago, as I was searching library display ideas, I came across the idea for Blind Date with a Book. The books are all wrapped with heart-shaped hints, and patrons select which ones to check out solely based on those hints. We decided to try it out, and to my shock and delight, our community really took to it. They continually tell us how much they enjoy participating in it – finding books they’d never try, a new author in their favorite genre, or just the joy of unwrapping the book itself! This idea has been extended to our Summer Scares and Fall Are You Afraid of the Book displays, too. All ages can participate, so it’s fun for everyone!

What all these programs and displays have in common is bringing together the community through books. I think it’s best to end with another quote that encompasses how books can connect each of us together: “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” – Anna Quindlen

Kelsey Blackman is a librarian at W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library, where she has worked since October 2021. In addition to serving on the Adult Services Team, Kelsey is a member of the Ravenous Readers Team. Before joining the library, Kelsey worked as a substitute teacher at Tucson Unified School District. In her spare time, she loves reading, especially mysteries.