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Community asked to help select book for Big Read

Voting set for Oct. 1-31

The idea of having everyone in a community read the same book at the same time has caught on in Dayton and in cities across America.

The Big Read project, which typically takes place over six weeks in late winter and culminates in April during National Library Week, gets thousands of people across the region reading and discussing a book. Discussion groups — both formal and informal — take place throughout different communities. Hundreds of book groups look forward to adding The Big Read to their schedules.

This year’s Big Read, sponsored by local libraries, book stores, non-profit organizations and the Dayton Daily News, will begin on March 10 and run through April 19. Libraries involved are as far north as Troy, as far south as Springboro-Franklin, as far east as Greene County Public Libraries and as far west as Preble County Public Libraries. Project Read, which supports literacy activities in the area, and the Friends of the Dayton Metro Library also support the effort.

Time to Vote

Community members are now being asked to help make the final book selection. Voting will be taking place from Oct. 1-31 (

“I have been told by publishers that our community read is unique because we involve so many partners,” said Jean Gaffney, chair of the Big Read committee and manager of the Dayton Metro Library’s Office of Collection Development. Gaffney first introduced the community read idea to Dayton in 2005, along with her colleague, Mimi Morris.

Gaffney had heard about the idea from other librarians at conferences and on public radio stations. The initial planning group decided the public should make the final selection from a slate of potential titles nominated by the planning committee. The public voting phase of the process typically takes place in the fall with a brief synopsis of each book provided.

After the voting, the community’s book choice is announced and the reading begins.

What’s in store

“It’s wonderful to see people energized around a common topic,” said Sharon Kelly Roth, director of public relations at Books & Co., who has been involved with the project since its inception. “When we read ‘Nickel and Dimed,’ we discussed poverty and homelessness, and trying to get by in our culture. When we read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ there was much discussion about prejudice. With ‘Glass Castle’ we talked about different parenting styles and how that effects children and their growth into adulthood.”

Libraries and book stores, like Books & Co., stock plenty of copies of the chosen title in preparation for the onslaught of requests.

“Sometimes the author is invited to visit Dayton for a public event,” Gaffney said. “Some high school teachers assign the title for students to read and encourage them to attend one of the scheduled book discussions. The Friends of the Library will provide copies of the book for classes when possible.”

How they choose

Books under consideration by the 19-member selection committee must meet a long list of requirements. They must be no more than 300-400 pages in length, engage readers ranging from teens to seniors, be widely available in a variety of formats — print, hard-cover, audio, large print and e-books — so that all members of the community will have access to them.

“A book needs to provide the opportunity for discussion and opinions,” said Roth, who serves on the pre-selection committee. “They can be either fiction or non-fiction, and should be relevant to issues of today. We want to appeal to both new and seasoned readers, and we don’t want to focus on one group of people.”

This will be the community’s ninth Big Read; the project took a hiatus last year.

“The public missed The Big Read last spring,” Gaffney said. “People emailed us, called us and wrote on Facebook that they missed it, so here we are again by public demand.”

The goal of The Big Read is community cohesion, Roth said.

“It’s something we can all participate in that challenges our ideas and gets people thinking in a new direction,” she said. “You might think that when everyone reads the same book they would have the same opinion when they finish, but they don’t. It may surprise you to find out that other people have an entirely different frame of reference.

“By realizing that and discussing it in a group, it expands your tolerance for other ideas and your appreciation for different viewpoints.”

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