During the pandemic, libraries have gotten creative to continue serving their communities while maintaining social distancing. Indoor group activities like book clubs are no longer feasible, so many libraries have switched to online or phone-based conversations. Connecticut’s Russell Library has taken a different approach, bringing literary discussions into the great outdoors with their Book Yak on a Kayak event.
The Russell Library started hosting outdoor book discussions two summers ago with their wildly popular Book Talk on a Walk program. Every Monday at lunchtime, readers would stroll together and stop along the way to chat about the book of the week. The program was so successful on land that the library decided to try it out on the water: in 2019, they partnered with the Middletown Recreation Department to lend out kayaks and host discussions on a local lake.
Book Yak on a Kayak returned in summer 2020. While COVID-19 prevented the library and the recreation department from loaning out kayaks, many community members attended on their own boats. Being outdoors and socially distant (plus wearing masks) gave participants peace of mind about socializing during the pandemic.
To make the most out of the discussion’s unique setting, the book selections have all focused on kayaking and canoeing: this year’s titles were This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, No Barriers: A Blind Man's Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon by Erik Weihenmayer, and Paddling with Spirits: A Solo Kayak Journey by Irene Skyriver. “The setting definitely enhanced the conversation,” program organizer Christy Billings told I Love Libraries. “People were much more attuned to weather and natural flora and fauna as part of the discussions.”
Being on the water also helped participants connect in ways they might not have during a traditional indoor book club. “During the journey, while paddling, people had conversations with each other on their own,” Billings shared. “Often they began around the book as a shared interest, but the conversations centered on all kinds of community topics. People of all ages and ethnicities attended these programs, sharing their thoughts with each other.”
Billings also emphasized that athleticism and boating experience weren’t prerequisites for participating. “You don’t have to have a high level of fitness to join us and join in these community conversations,” she explained. “Having a discussion in the outdoors, on the water, surrounded by nature, is a great way to relax and boost endorphins.”
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