It's smooth sailing for new book discussion group

It's anchors aweigh for a new book discussion group.

Kitsap Regional Library has launched a new batch of readers — aboard the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry.

Officials said it's the only library book discussion program based on a ferry boat that they know of.

“We want people to come to the library, but we know we also need to go where people are,” said Audrey Barbakoff, the librarian who created and coordinates the Ferry Tales book discussion group.

“Being out there for people online has been great. People can interact with us on Facebook and chat with us live," she said. “But being out there where they are allows us to serve them personally. It reminds them that the library is relevant to their daily lives.”

The group will meet on the second Thursday of every month, and there were eight participants in the first Ferry Tales book discussion on March 8.

Barbakoff expects about 10 in the upcoming discussion on Thursday, April 12. The group will meet on the 3:50 p.m. Bainbridge-to-Seattle ferry and on the 4:40 p.m. Seattle-to-Bainbridge ferry.

The idea for Ferry Tales began during a programming brainstorming session that Barbakoff had with Rebecca Judd,  Kitsap Regional Library’s Bainbridge branch manager.

“We had just been talking about the large proportion of Island people who commute to work in Seattle and how we could serve them better,” Barbakoff said. “And the idea just came … all libraries program book discussion groups. Having the discussion on the ferry would allow us to better serve those residents who commute.”

“One of our fundamental beliefs is that we need to take the library beyond our four walls, and do it in innovative ways,” added library director Jill Jean. “As a former ferry commuter, I can’t think of a better way to spend time on the boat than being involved in a book discussion.”

“In the larger picture, it’s a matter of how libraries remain relevant to our communities in a time when lives are more complicated and when there are multiple demands on people’s time,” Jean said.

The first book the group discussed? Despite the setting, it wasn't "The Old Man and the Sea" or "The Man in the Yellow Raft."

Instead, it was “Garlic and Sapphires,” a humorous memoir by food critic Ruth Reichl.

The next book for discussion will be the more serious literary fiction selection, “The Tiger’s Wife,” by Tea Obreht, a National Book Award finalist in 2011.

Barbakoff has been looking for books for the group to read based on their interests.

But the discussion itself has to happen in quick order – there’s only about 25 minutes to talk once the commuters get aboard and gather and before they have to prepare to leave the boat or to get to their cars on the decks below.

“I am trying to get to know our participants,” Barbakoff said. “The idea is to match the books we choose to read with the interests of the people in the group. So far, people have expressed an interest in literary fiction, but also in some genres like mysteries and fantasy.”

“The response so far has been really positive,” she added.

“One woman told me that she had been participating in a book group in Seattle, but she didn’t like having to commute over to the city to do it. She said it was wonderful that she could combine the trip she already has to make for her commute with an opportunity to discuss a good book.”

If the group gets any larger, it will outgrow the booth in the passenger compartment that Barbakoff choose for the meeting place.

“At first I was afraid that maybe I was grabbing someone’s regular booth and they would be angry, but everyone was fine,” she said. “The 4:40 boat is pretty busy, but it was still quiet enough so we could have a good discussion in the booth.”

Barbakoff noted that Ferry Tales represents a trend in library programming; libraries across the country are looking for ways to bring their services to places where people gather instead of expecting people to come to them.

Several library systems have branches in shopping malls — Kitsap Regional Library brought a series of programs to the Kitsap Mall in Silverdale last fall — and some libraries are now doing programs in brew pubs, while other library systems are putting collections of paperback books on buses where they can be borrowed using the honor system.


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