By Olivia Wirta
Special to the Voice
GROTON — Vanessa Abraham is the Groton Public Library Director and helps run the Groton READS program that takes place in town. This program reaches all age levels and there are many events associated with it. Abraham told us more about this unique program.
Q: How long has this program been in place?
A: Since 2005, so this is the 13th year.
Q: How did this program get started?
A: Initially, it started out in Seattle in 1998, the idea of “What if everyone in the same town, city read the same book.” They started doing it out in Seattle, but it didn’t really hit nation-wide interest until Chicago did it in 2001 when they did “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which is what we started with. Once Chicago did it, everyone sort of took notice and libraries starting doing it all over the country. Some do it by town like we do, some do regions like nearby they had three towns like Boxford and a couple other towns did one as kind of a region thing. Some do it as like the state, you know “Colorado Reads” which is kind of crazy. We started small in 2005, just four book discussions and a showing of the movie “To Kill A Mockingbird” and now it has grown substantially so that we have multiple programs reaching all ages and we really get as much as possible more of the community involved.
Q: How are the books picked?
A: We have a committee of librarians on staff and people from the community. We make a group of interested parties I guess. Maybe a trustee, maybe an English teacher from the high school sometimes or from LA or a community member or someone who is a big reader, you know, we definitely try to get outside input and generally people enjoy being a part of the process of deciding what’s the book going to be this year.
Q: What are some of the past books?
A: I can make you a list! “The Giver” that was one in 2006, I would say our most successful years were “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, and “Animal Vegetable Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver, those were really, really well done before I came here, and since we’ve done a couple of really popular books that were really successful and “The Martian” we did last year by Andy Weir. We did the “Art Forger” which was great because we got to do all kinds of programs with art.
Q: How many copies of these books are made available?
A: I did just recently get the statistics for 2006 and “The Martian” went out 266 times last year that was our book but it did say we had 87 copies, I don’t know if that’s exactly right. We’ll just say 50 we don’t want to look too extravagant. We get about 50 copies that we buy to meet demand, and then we also borrow copies from other libraries in the network. We get E-book copies, we put it on our Nooks, we try to get every format available.
Q: How do you attract people in order to get them to participate?
A: We’ll talk to local news reporters such as yourself. In the past we’ve done a postcard mail to every household in town and that I think was really successful. This year we mailed out at the end of December the quarterly kind of newsletters so then we put it on the back. It’s not as good as a postcard but you know mailing to every household in town about it, put it out in the local news, Groton cable, we have an email list of nearly 3000 people that we send them an email that is specifically Groton READS events coming up, we got it promoted of course throughout the library and we get postcards often and put them up around town and flyers and brochures and that sort of thing around town and do kind of a mass mailing to community groups and especially ones that might be interested.
Q: Are people from the community leaders of the groups?
A: One of the programs we are doing this year, since it’s a historical book, we’re working on a cooperative program with the Groton Historical Society to do a program on an early local conservationist William Morton because this one has to do with fire, fire chief Steele McCurdy is coming to one of our events to participate. I promote it because Groton has an enormous amount of conservation land, people love the outdoors and hiking. We promoted a couple of the hikes in the area because this book is not only about a big fire, but also about how it became a catalyst for preserving public lands for the public good that companies wanted to own them to log them to make money but then Teddy Roosevelt and some other people came along and said “No we need to actually put these aside, national parks, 100 year anniversary just happened that was a big deal last year or the year before. We always do a program at the Senior Center.
Q: How many people participate?
A: Well, the last couple of years were pretty epic. We has an astronaut come for “The Martian” so we had two story times that were packed, 75 kids each and then we had a program up here with over 100 people, so 250 people for one event. I would say about 1000 in total participated between the different events, actually probably more when you consider, I was looking at the adult events but if you consider how many kids are going to come during school vacation week to see “Smokey the Bear” it might be more like 1500. 2 years ago we did “Following Atticus” author Tom Ryan, he almost never gives public appearances so we had the 800 seat middle school auditorium and we had a waiting list. He’s huge. People actually flew in from Canada, people came in from all over the country because he has that following and Atticus was old so I think everyone wanted to see Atticus. That was unusually large, that was more than just Groton.
Q: You’ve spoken about some events you have had, are there any that stand out?
A: Well the Tom Ryan event was the biggest event this library has had for any program. That was just epic. The astronaut was one of the best program days we’ve had here because he not only engaged with the kids you know and all the way up and you don’t get a lot of chances to meet an astronaut so people really fell in for that. Another one that was just, we needed a much larger space for, was the “Art Forger” program because we had you know the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum heist? We had not only the head of security from the museum but we also had the FBI agent in charge of the case. We didn’t realize it, but they never appear together so that went into the Boston Globe and people had to leave because it was a fire hazard with people packing in. We didn’t realize we had hit such a goldmine it was so unexpected. So, that kind of was fun. I know we’ve had some whoppers in the past but I wasn’t here so I can’t quite remember. But I would say “Animal Vegetable Miracle” for that one it was so fantastic because we had a local farm tour because it was about eating locally which I thought was great because then you’re promoting local farmers. “A Walk in the Woods” I loved because it was local people on local trails in the posters promoting the Groton READS. Very, very creative. Wonderful.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add about the program?
A: People are always like “Well what does it have to do with Groton,” but what we look for is themes that we feel are relevant to the community like obviously Groton has had some major fires, I mean most towns with hundreds of years of history have, but you know the Groton Inn and some other major fires in town and also we picked it because the theme of conservation and forest management. You know Groton really values conservation land. It’s something this town is enormously proud of and also it’s just a page turner, we really try to get something that is a good read and not too long. Just long enough. We’re always open to new ideas and suggestions.
Olivia Wirta is a Groton-Dunstable Regional High School senior interning at Nashoba Valley Voice. Suggestions for 10 Questions subjects may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.