From the 1990s to 2015 Wyoming Humanities operated the Reading Wyoming program in much the same way.  Identifying, purchasing, housing, managing, and shipping multiple copies of multiple book series, accepting applications from hosting organizations, and contracting with and paying scholar stipends.  Host organizations made arrangements and provided the publicity as well as application and reporting paperwork.  Participants never had to do much more than read the books and show up.

In the mid-2000s the number of books in a series was reduced from six to four.  A decade later we found ourselves needing to make additional changes.  The number one comment from book group participants was, basically, “we love our book group, our discussion leader is so good in helping us to explore the topics, please don’t stop and we love the way the books challenge and make us think, we love reading things we would not have read otherwise.”  The other comment received at least as often was along the lines of, “we didn’t like the books, people didn’t show up because they didn’t like the books, something in a book offended us, why would anyone want to read these books, we want to read different books, pick better books”.

How best to address these directives was a topic of conversation at Wyoming Humanities for several years.  We struggled with how to address the dwindling numbers of participants in many groups.  The fact that some participants didn’t seem to know or appreciate who is providing funding for books and scholars is of concern.  The simply overwhelming reality of having purchased 80 copies of scores of titles over decades, many of which are still housed in our office, is a problem we could no longer ignore.  Additionally, we are increasingly expected to provide justification of our expenditures based on the number of participants benefiting from the service and the impact of our programming.  Frankly, it is difficult to justify the expenditure of more than $600 to serve the same 3 or 4 individuals in a single community on four occasions even when the community is small and isolated.  One argument is that the same or possibly a smaller investment in a single larger community-wide program could likely reach far more individuals in small isolated communities.

Project Directors will use the Wyoming Wyldcat Interlibrary Loan System for book acquisition

We know this program is important.  We also need to find a way to keep it viable.   After carefully considering our mission as it applies to support for reading groups, it is clear that our support for scholar-led discussions is the best and most appropriate investment of resources for these groups.  When Reading Wyoming began in the 1990s Wyoming was a different place.  There was no easily available interlibrary loan system.  In the early years it made sense for us to acquire and manage books.  Now, there is the internet, electronic copies, Amazon, and most importantly, now Wyoming’s Wyldcat database provides an extensive Interlibrary Loan system (ILL) with literally hundreds of book club kits available through Wyoming’s library database.  There are many libraries housing and managing hundreds of book club kits.  Most allow extended checkout periods so that groups may use them in exactly the way discussion groups need to have book kits available.  Wyoming libraries have long been our best and very greatest partners and we are confident that project directors (working with their local librarians) will be able to effectively use the Wyldcat ILL system to obtain books for Reading Wyoming groups.  This method will eventually prove to be an efficient and satisfactory way to resource books for local reading groups.

Wyoming Humanities donations of Reading Wyoming titles

We understand this change may be bumpy but honestly Wyoming Humanities simply can no longer afford to purchase, manage or ship books to reading groups.  We don’t have the budget, we don’t have the time and resources, and especially we don’t have the space.  Well into the 21st century, our previous way of doing no longer makes sense.  Within the next month or two we will begin donating multiple copies of series titles that we have in the office.  These donations will go to libraries around the state and will become book club kits, which will then be available to people across Wyoming wanting to check out a kit.  If you or your group are interested in having a particular set of books from a particular series or an entire series to use for your group and if your library will then make the books available as book club kits through the Wyldcat ILL system, please send a list of the specific titles in which you are interested.  If the books are still available, we’ll send the books to you as soon as possible.  We are not charging a fee or shipping for the books that will eventually end up as book club kits.  We only require that they be made available as a book club kit within 1 year of your receipt of them.  Accepting a set of titles to use and then eventually turn into book club kits could be a great way to transition reading groups.  A group could use Wyoming Humanities titles for the next round and use the interim time to talk and think and learn about how best to begin using the Wyldcat ILL system in the future.

Support of project directors and scholars by participants

Reading Wyoming group participants will need to support scholars and project directors to select titles from the huge number of reading group kits available through the Wyoming Wyldcat ILL system.  We heard participants’ pleas to continue supporting scholars as discussion leaders for book groups and we have thought long and hard about how we could preserve that important aspect of Reading Wyoming.  We were interested to learn that many Wyoming libraries host reading groups with staff or other professionals facilitating discussions as part of their regular job or without additional compensation.  Reading Wyoming seems to be the rare program wherein a scholar is given a stipend to facilitate discussions.  It is important for us to continue supporting scholar-led discussions.  We need participants to help get the word out to ensure that discussions will include at least the minimum 8 participants required.

Our goal with turning to the Wyldcat ILL systems’ books, in addition to turning the books over to professionals better suited to handle that aspect, is to provide groups with more choices for what to read and what subjects might be covered.  For example, the Riverton group decided to allow people in the group to select different titles within a certain topic range and then report to the group about and discuss the various titles at each session over the course of four discussion meetings.  Their scholar is excited to be providing guidance, an overview, and context on suggested titles, and facilitate the discussions.  Some may simply purchase the books they want to read.  We love this idea and hope that other groups will seize this opportunity to think creatively about how you may all work together to bring more interest and enthusiasm to your scholar lead reading and discussions.

Reading a “series” is no longer required

We at Wyoming Humanities are very excited by what this potentially means for reading groups.  One effect of using libraries’ book club kits is that Reading Wyoming groups will have far more flexibility in book choices.  You may even decide that your group wants to read four totally unrelated books—that’s fine.  Your selected books don’t have to be part of a series.

For those who do want to read books that speak to the same subject or theme, you will find in the Additional Resources section of this page a list of some book club kit titles taken from the Wyoming Wyldcat ILL system list, organized by potential ‘series’ groupings. Prepared by Erin Pryor Ackerman of our office, this list provides a sampling of book kits available through the Wyldcat ILL system and how groups could read some of those within a thematic, or series framework.

We are sorry that we were unable to provide a comprehensive list, we really had no idea just how many book club kits are available through the Wyoming Wyldcat ILL system.  In order to keep the program on track we simply had to stop.  Consequently, the list provided is not a comprehensive list of all of the book club kits available in Wyoming, only what Erin was able to come up with over the course of a month around her regular job.  It is simply a beginning point for groups not yet ready to jump into identifying and selecting titles to create the series of their dreams or develop some sort of thematic grouping to explore and discuss.

We have accepted the fact that it is not necessary for us to choose the books that groups will read and best to trust our scholars to lead scholarly humanities-based discussions for reading groups regardless of what titles are selected.  We ask that, as groups familiarize themselves with the book club kits available throughout the state, they share information with us and each other about the number of books available in kits used, what books were selected and why, and share  ideas for additional potential series using titles available through the Wyldcat ILL system.

Using Interlibrary loan will present challenges

We understand that using the Wyldcat ILL system may pose some challenges for book club groups and their project directors and scholars.  However, Wyoming’s librarians are much better suited to explore and explain the workings of this system than are we and eventually using this system will make it possible for project directors to move efficiently through the process without waiting on Wyoming Humanities to process books.  In our own research we discovered that some kits have only 6 copies of a book in a particular kit.  However, there are sometimes titles available in multiple kits from different libraries.  Also, we found additional multiple single copies available at other libraries throughout the state.  Many kits have 10 books and some kits have 15 to 20 books in a kit.  Natrona County library in Casper has by far the most kits, but there are many others with kits available.  Some libraries don’t know the number of books in a kit until you call them and ask them to look at that kit and let you know the number of books in the kit (although the majority of libraries do indicate in the Wyldcat ILL system the number of copies available).  Most book club kits come with a list of discussion questions, though apparently not all.

We understand that a few reading groups are still experiencing participation levels of more than 15 participants, and for these there will be additional challenges to acquire books.  This could mean that some group members may need to arrange to share their books, request additional assistance to acquire additional single titles through the Wyldcat ILL system, or possibly explore other possibilities.

We’ve been told that some readers actually prefer to purchase used copies of books on Amazon or access electronic copies through the library or other resources.  We’ve often had suggestions about making electronic versions of titles available.  Many Wyoming libraries already obtain and have electronic copies of books available.  Perhaps project directors could assist participants in accessing electronic versions of books or direct participants to someone who could.  If a group has members who prefer to purchase their own book, could those people be identified in advance to help address the count issue for kits containing fewer books than the number who want to participate?  If the reading groups are as important as has been indicated on our evaluations we hope that local participants will be willing to step up to help project directors and each other ensure that everyone has a book to read.

We know that organization project directors, particularly those working in tiny branch libraries with little or no outside support will need to have good support from local group members to help with acquiring book club kits through interlibrary loan, promoting the discussion groups, and bringing new and different people to the discussions.  Perhaps project directors can work with a volunteer or volunteers from the group who will be willing to accept responsibility for developing a checklist with dates to request and acquire books for each particular group discussion.  Though no one will be waiting on Wyoming Humanities, someone will need to be on top of the Wyldcat ILL system requests to insure that books arrive with enough time for everyone to read the books prior to the discussion.  Also, someone will need to accept responsibility for making sure all the books have been returned so that they can be returned to the loaning library within the specified time-frame.   A group may want to set up a schedule of when and whom will submit book requests and assign different participants to be responsible for different books.

Reading Wyoming Deadlines and Applications for Fall and Spring Reading Groups

October 1, 2016

Application Deadline for Reading Wyoming groups beginning January through June 2017.

March 1, 2017

Application Deadline for Reading Wyoming groups beginning July through December 2017.

October 1, 2017

Application Deadline for Reading Wyoming groups beginning January through June 2017.

Applications must be submitted on the new form. Old Reading Wyoming application forms will no longer be accepted. Applications submitted on the old form will not be accepted or reviewed.  Application forms are located in the Additional Resources section of this page.

Based on the fact that in the last two years a number of groups have had fewer than 8 participants for even 3 out of 4 discussion groups, we are asking groups with consistently low turnout to please consider reducing the number of book discussions held until you can interest more participants.  We will accept applications for 3 or 4 reading sessions groups within each community.

Groups are not eligible for more than one funded reading group in a fiscal year and must choose Fall, Spring, or Summer.  Applications must be submitted on the new application form by or before the appropriate deadline for anticipated reading discussions.

Unfortunately, there is only enough funding available for 8 groups to meet in the Fall of 2016 and another 8 in Spring/Summer of 2017.  Although funding could increase in future years, this is the best we can offer now.  Current economic and political realities make it impossible to predict future funding.

Funding a group may be determined by consideration of the following factors:

  • Has the group participated before?
  • Has the discussion group regularly met Wyoming Humanities requirements?
  • If the group has participated before, is reported attendance consistently below the required 8 participants?
  • Were past reading and discussion groups advertised or otherwise promoted?
  • Were evaluation forms handed out and returned?
  • Was a project director evaluation provided immediately following the last discussion?
  • Did the scholar file a report on the reading-wyoming@uwyo.edu group list following each discussion?  Did the scholar reports include a thorough discussion of the humanities topics covered in the discussion, even if the group did not like the books?

It should be noted that Wyoming Humanities has long ‘required’ a minimum of 8 participants at each discussion.  However, review of project director reports reveals that too many groups consistently have fewer than 8 people participating and in some cases that is for at least 3 of their 4 discussion groups.  We need your help to increase the numbers of participants for groups that are consistently falling below 8.  As stated previously, to insure that groups are able to continue to qualify for scholar-led discussion groups we need project directors, scholars, and participants to work collaboratively to get the word out and attract at least the minimum number of participants for each and every Reading Wyoming group discussion.

Each application must include six titles from which the group will select up to four titles to read and discuss.  The extra titles are alternates in case a book club kit selected is not available at the time a group wants to use it.  We have, in the past, asked that the library or the reading group pay shipping one way for the books we provide.  Some of Wyoming’s libraries charge a fee or one-way shipping for use of a book club kit.  We anticipate that expenses should be comparable with what has been asked in the past.

Fees, Expenses and Scholar Stipends

Wyoming Humanities will continue to provide this service at no charge to host organizations.  Additionally, we will hold a portion of our Reading Wyoming funding to pay for scholar travel expenses at .56 per mile.  We are asking host organizations to include the anticipated cost of mileage on the application form so that we know the full financial commitment being made at the time the application is submitted.

Also, while we are still learning about how the Wyldcat ILL system works, host organizations may apply for reimbursement of expenses to cover the cost of unexpected charges relating to the use of the Wyldcat ILL system.  Each library has different rules and fees for using the Wyldcat ILL system.  Until groups begin using the database to obtain books, it is unclear exactly how much libraries may be asked to pay for obtaining books for reading groups through the Wyldcat ILL system.  Though we expect the costs will not be significantly more than the shipping costs host organizations covered in the past, we aren’t sure.  Additionally, we heard from some that it may be possible for libraries to waive and minimize fees for organizations hosting reading groups and using the Wyldcat ILL system.  The reimbursement option is just in case there are unanticipated fees related to using the Wyldcat ILL system.

Wyoming Humanities will accept applications for reimbursements of significant amounts over and above the cost of one-way shipping for 3 or 4 sets of books, depending on what that host organization requested.  Host organizations applying for reimbursement of costs must provide a detailed list of the expenditures for which they are requesting reimbursement and an explanation of why reimbursement is necessary.  We hope this will help us all to address and plan for expenses relating to use of the Wyldcat ILL system into the future.

Wyoming Humanities will continue to contract with scholars and pay scholar stipends.  We are increasing the amount of the scholar stipend to $200 for each reading group discussion.  Scholars must be more involved in selecting titles for their groups and the increased stipend amount is in recognition of that fact.

Wyoming Humanities is responsible for working directly with scholars to obtain signed documentation

We are no longer asking the host organization to provide scholars with contracts, W9 forms, or vouchers. That has not been working consistently and we’ve had too many occasions when scholars ended their facilitation without the proper documentation on file at our office, claiming never to have received the necessary documentation.  Project directors will provide scholar names and contact information on the application and Wyoming Humanities will provide scholars with documents for signature and conduct all follow-up.

Group Discussion Reports by Scholars and the Reading Wyoming Archive of Group Discussion Reports

Scholars are still required to provide a written report of the questions and discussion covered by the group to the Reading Wyoming group list (reading-wyoming@uwyo.edu) immediately following each group discussion. Failure to do this will result in a reduction of the amount provided to the scholar when a final voucher is submitted. Humanities scholars are paid a stipend to facilitate group reading discussions and report on those discussions.  The majority of Reading Wyoming scholars are very attentive to providing a thorough discussion of the themes, issues, questions and impressions discussed by the group.  In a few instances however, reports have been inadequate, sounding more like a book report and not including any analysis of Humanities content in the discussion.  We encourage all scholars to remain attentive to providing relevant insight into the Humanities discussions held by the group.

For many years Debbie Sturman at the Niobrara County Library in Lusk has maintained an archive of the group discussion reports provided by scholars.  Our new approach to allowing groups to identify and select their own titles may make it impossible to continue archiving the scholar reports in the way they have been archived in the past.  This is an issue we have not yet resolved.  Although we’d like very much to continue having scholar reports available for review, we have not yet identified the best way to do that.  We are open to suggestions.