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BookBuffet Sponsors Rachel Jacobsohn in Facilitator Workshops in LA

abstract: Pulling up to terminal one at Los Angeles airport to pick-up Rachel Jacobsohn on her trip here to give two book group facilitator workshops, and already we are laughing hysterically over our respective cell phones. 


June 02, 2004

In the post 9-11 reality of airport security, you can no longer park curbside to wait for passengers. So Rachel and I have been communicating on our phones since she landed, taxied, grabbed her luggage and while I made four passes around the airport terminal circuit (there are 8 terminals at LAX) before finally making visual contact with the woman who will be our guest and educator over the next 3 days. Arriving into the realm of strangers takes a sense of trust, confidence and adventure—which Rachel possesses in full measure.  But we are not complete strangers.


Rachel and I first met two years ago at the time my partner Sue Berger and I were poised to launch our new website, (yes - this website), and had read an article about her in the LA Times. I was curious to meet the woman from the windy city who wrote the bible on book groups, became the voice in the wilderness pre-Oprah, and has continued to nurture people on the subject of book groups for the past 30 years. After that meeting we remained in touch and vowed to work together on a future project.  Then, as now, it is a delight.


Scrambling to load her bag and body into my ancient SUV outside the confines of taped voice blaring, “THE LOADING ZONE” over speakers, amidst dodging and honking cars—I witness the first instance of Rachel’s unflappable ease and professionalism.  The success of this trip, and our collaborations this weekend will, I suppose, determine how we proceed.  What follows is an account of the dynamic synergy of our three days together.      Already, we are liking it.


As we pull away from the curb I am mentally taking a tally of who we are and what in our backgrounds and experiences will compliment and contrast.  I suppose, sharing a love for literature along with the respect, desire and skill required to communicate it well in groups, is our first point in common.  Rachel has the skill; and I have the desire to see her share it. But the differences between us are what attract. Rachel's in print and I'm in electronic communication. How did I get here?


Having been involved with book groups for over 20 years I have witnessed the ups and downs most groups seem to go through over time.  I became dedicated toward creating a website that would become a sort of one-stop resource or home for book groups—to "meet", communicate, share resources and get more out of their experience using the technology on the web. The goal was to create a unique set of tools to allow people to run their groups better, smarter—saving time, energy and money.


I’m hesitant to say that BookBuffet has become that unique resource, for fear of challenging the Internet Gods that control the strange workings of the web with all that DNA-looking code that engines our sites, but by most accounts we have a clean looking site that just keeps getting better. With regular additions of creative new features and functionality, and the prospect of reaching out to people with the depth and experience of Rachel—our hopes are to attract the talent that will enrich our services and content.  We invite you to check us out, and look forward to your criticism, encouragement and support in these endeavors!


With Rachel safely secured in the front seat, we fall like schoolgirls into conversation immediately.  Taking the scenic route from the airport through the Marina and Venice, along PCH and the beautiful beaches and sparkling aqua tinted waters of Santa Monica Bay I am cogniscent of the natural beauty here.  I secretly want Rachel to fall in love with Southern California.  I want to be a good host.  I want the workshops to go well.


I’ve picked a delightful boutique B&B close to all this in the hope we will have time for a stroll on the miles of beach walk between or after the talks during her stay. After check-in and a chance to freshen-up, we head over to the Santa Monica Public Library where our co-sponsor Susan Annette, (chief librarian in charge of the SMPL CityWide Reads program) is setting up for Rachel’s first workshop.  


The first workshop is almost completely full.  There is an interesting mix of people, male and female, young and old, new book groups and established book groups.  Susan introduces me, and I introduce Rachel.  Here is how it begins: 

“Rachel is the most often quoted authority in the country on matters relating to reading groups.” BookMuse
She has had TV Appearances: Oprah, CNN, Fox News and Good Morning America and written articles appearing in BOOK Magazine, Biblio, WTTW (Chicago) Magazine, for Project Millennium, and Harvest. She is quoted in such publications as: LA Times, NYTimes, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Boston Line, Philadelphia Inquirer and Publisher’s Weekly. My Google search results turned up articles on her, whole sections devoted to her in: **to which she is on the Advisory Board**, OneBookOne City Indianapolis, Marion County, and our own website  and others… She is the author of The Reading Group Handbook. (Hyperion 1998) now in its second edition and 4th combined printing, which has been the Bible for book groups since the beginning! RJ also writes/publishes a monthly news journal Reverberations for the Association of Book Group Readers and Leaders, (which has over 1100 members strong) that she founded in 1994 and terms "a cooperative information clearinghouse for thinking readers".

The highlights of these workshops from my perspective, has been to watch Rachel take a group of relative strangers of diverse experience, background and agendas, and unite them into a solid group with no barrier to thought, opinion or discussion.  She has taken her years of people-experience and demonstrated the concept that everyone has something to give at the table, we are not looking for one right answer or winner, as discussion of literature is not a competition. "Leave your egos at the door." is her mantra and the stage is set for enjoyable, fear-free, inclusive—fun discussion. 


At the close of the session there are still many people who want to stay, and Rachel having already obliged them 20 minutes over, reluctantly agrees we need to wrap-up. Contact information is exchanged and plans for a follow-up "advanced" session are suggested. 


We head out for dinner, which the sponsors have conveniently arranged just down the street from the workshop location. A leisure stroll on Montana Avenue in the golden slanting rays of sunet. At the end of this street, a white stone statue of Saint Monica, the namesake, overlooks the bay.


Conversation at dinner sparkles with mutual professional interests—we are each building respective enterprises, communities and forging relationships. Books, technology and ideas are exchanged. 


The next day's workshop is directed at the professional moderator, cosponsored by the UCLA Department of Information Studies, or The Library School and Chief Librarian, Cindy Mediavilla.  I am keen to meet our host, the attendees and see how Rachel adapts her course.  We are greeted and introduced by Natalie Cole, Director of the California Center for the Book.  Most of attendees are librarians who have traveled some distance to attend the workshop.  Finding our way on the UCLA campus takes us back to freshman year of our own educations—chaos, anticipation and promise. 


I really enjoy this workshop.  We are really doing some good here.  I feel that the needs of the workshop attendees are direct and focused, many admit to little time or experience with any of the details of being in a book group, leading a group, selecting books for their demographics, experience in analysis of literature, or presenting it in an effective and enjoyable way.  But they are professionals and once they have identified their needs, their information gathering skills and research skills and sheer enthusiasm and will to meet the changing needs of their communities drives them into new boundaries. 


They deal with books all day long.  They deal with cataloguing and storing; they deal with budgets and budget shortfalls, communication and the electronic era.  Many of them are responsible, not only for designing programs, budgets and finding resources, they are also responsible for developing websites and content, and so their electronic and communication questions and challenges are very germane to BookBuffet's own experience and challenges.  


Rachel's "close-reading" session is most impressive, almost my favorite thing.  For anyone who has experienced this, you crave it again.  The session is over before we know it and once again members are asking for a follow-up workshop, more hands-on experience and extensive resources.


Clearly some of them will have immediate success and some will have to learn to overcome areas of challenge.  But that has been part of the workshop as well—recognizing our strengths and overcoming weaknesses.  Isn't that what life is all about? 

For Future workshops in your area, please contact with the subject title, Book Group and Facilitator Workshops

Members of these workshops wishing to collect their BookBuffet Memberships please contact us via email with your information.  



Paula Shackleton, Founder and President, BookBuffet LLC

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