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Digital platforms improve book club accessibility

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Literary societies have existed for centuries, but digital age devices, multifaceted formats, diverse styles of presentation and genres of discussion have inspired the proliferation of groups accessible to mature seniors, regardless of visual or auditory acuity or motor challenges. Health professionals hail book clubs as sources of enlightenment, especially among seniors seeking interaction.

Libraries, community centres, schools, hospital and synagogue auxiliaries, as well as private clubs, schedule monthly meetings for registered members and some are open to the public. Book aficionados with reduced mobility can participate through podcasts, Facebook and online meetings.

In 1982, Kathy Diamond, a reference librarian at the Côte-St-Luc Public Library, was summoned by Eleanor London, then chief librarian, to lead a daytime program for “over-50s.” Unfamiliar with the animator component, Diamond hesitated. Diamond has diversified career-wise since then, but continues to review books and dialogue with audiences at public and private organizations throughout Montreal.

“This place is where I started, but like other public libraries, they run a number of book circles and some are conducted by animators in different languages,” she explained, after wrapping up a recent review of Canadian author Joanna Goodman’s novel The Home for Unwanted Girls. Set in the Duplessis era, it drew animated response from seniors familiar with that period in Quebec history, prevalent in attendance at that monthly Monday morning session that drew 45 people.

Diamond selects fiction and non-fiction by authors throughout the world. “The books must be well-written and the authors must have something to say.” She singles out novels and memoirs as generating the most interest.

Attendees queried hesitated to reveal their full names, but agreed to discuss their preferred reading platforms. A large percentage tap into smartphones to engage in social media, make purchases and pay bills, but several choose hard or softcover print books for reading enjoyment. Others raved about their iPad tablets and ebooks. They download books from libraries, Amazon, Apple’s iTunes and other apps.

Marian, 73, switched to audiobooks because she has vision challenges. She attends Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary’s book review sessions. This fall, they will be held in a synagogue near her home. “We socialize over breakfast and we hear from knowledgeable speakers at the book review segment,” she said.

Frances, 84, has reduced visual acuity. She grew accustomed to reserving large-print books. A year ago, she found them cumbersome to hold, so she switched to an e-reader. “It’s light and I can adjust the print size, download books and carry it anywhere,” she said.

Sarah, a recent retiree, was accustomed to Microsoft Windows and Office programs, having worked on desktops in the legal field. Now, she uses a Kindle e-reader. “It’s practical, but there are many other models on the market.”

Lynn, belongs to a 12-member private book club that meets for two and a half hours, once a month. “Everyone is asked to contribute. I prepare slides for my presentation.”

Book kits with an allotment of large- and regular-print books and audiobooks are accessible at public libraries and online. Author profiles, book summaries and Q-and-A sections complete the array. They are put to good use at Antonella’s Afternoon Book Circle. Although free for library members, registration is required because it fills up quickly. Retirees form the majority of afternoon participants. About 10 people sit around a table and they each comment on the book. Subsequently, the borrowed books are returned and Antonella, the well-prepared animator/reference librarian, distributes supplies for the following monthly meeting.  

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