Avid readers make island book club challenge

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When starting up a book club, Salt Spring Islander Joan Dickenson said you need a group of avid readers, people who can handle opinions different than their own and some spirited discussion, a nice warm beverage and “many, many goodies.” 

Oh, and you also need books. In the case of the book club Dickenson has been part of for 15 years, they need up to eight of the same book and they need them all at the same time, in time for the club to start that month’s reading. Now, Dickenson and her fellow book club members are committing to donating the cost of a book, $25, every year and challenging other book clubbers to do the same to help the library that ensures their clubs get the books they need. 

On an island like Salt Spring, getting a book club read into the hands of members isn’t always as easy as 1,2,3. Salt Spring Island Public Library chief librarian Karen Hudson estimates there are over 50 book clubs active here. And the interlibrary loan program, entirely managed by six volunteers, takes care of any book requests that come in. 

The program operates on a unique model, Hudson explained, with provincial funding received based on how many books a library loans out to other libraries in the province. The cost of administering the program is $1.45 per book for postage, as well as paying for lost books and administration, Hudson confirmed. The library gets an annual $4,039 grant to run the interlibrary loan program, which covers the shipping. Hudson added that the library welcomes donations for other costs, which include “labels, computer, printers, network, staff support” and more.

The library loans out around 1,800 books each year, yet the demand for books to be sent to the island is much higher. In 2019 there were 2,530 interlibrary loan requests put in by Salt Spring library patrons, with many of these being book club sets. That equals more than one book per hour the library was open that year, a total of 2,065 hours, Hudson stated. 

In the case of the book club Dickenson is a founder and member of, these can include books that are upwards of 30 years old or not necessarily bestsellers that take some effort to track down. Some favourites from the early years of their book club include Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan, Alphabet By Kathy Page and My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk. 

“Actually it’s quite a bit of fun. You look at the book and say ‘Oh, it’s from Quesnel.’ I love it,” she laughed. 

Most books travel far, except for usually one copy found at the local library.

“It costs a lot to go and buy the book if it’s popular [and] you might not even find it. So we really appreciate the library for that . . . It’s a wonderful service,” Dickenson said. 

As they save a substantial amount of money by using the interlibrary loan program, club member and volunteer interlibrary loan coordinator for the past 10 years Melynda Okulitch floated the idea of donating the cost of a book — around $25 — to the library’s annual appeal. The club members agreed, and are also challenging Salt Spring’s other book clubs to do the same. 

“In a way it was just saying thank you to the library,” Dickenson said. 

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