As Covid-19 rages on, is the landscape for book clubs changing in our society?

The answer is simple: yes and no.

Even if the format of the meetings has changed in most cases, clubs are still meeting, which is encouraging. Back in March with the virus at an early peak, club hosts and their members had bigger things to worry about than their monthly gatherings.

Yet when BookTrib polled the many clubs around the country to which it sends books each month whether they still wanted the books, the response was a resounding yes. After all, reading was still one of the safest and accessible leisure activities, and receiving books, even if a bit more complicated to disperse to members, provided “an ounce of normalcy” to a suddenly abnormal world.

BookTrib’s general experience and observations were confirmed in “Book Clubs in Lockdown,” a just-released study by BookBrowse, which has been researching readers and book clubs for more than 15 years. The study found that three-quarters of the 3,417 respondents who say they are in a book club are in groups that are currently meeting.

Some, the report says, have experienced sickness, quarantines or fatalities among those close to them, and many feel drained by current events; but they also feel supported by their book club and buoyed by a greater sense of friendship and community.

The report says that while the vast majority of groups had previously met in person and indoors, some 65 percent of those currently meeting are doing so virtually, almost all on Zoom, and 17 percent are meeting outdoors (with some looking for a new winter location).

 A quarter of those who are currently meeting, according to BookBrowse, say their group’s attendance rate is lower than last year, mostly due to technical issues meeting virtually or not feeling safe meeting in person. But 14 percent of virtual groups have gained members, mainly due to the ease of meeting online and former or part-time members being able to join virtually.

The study reiterates the feeling that “the resilience of book clubs shines through. Of course, they would prefer not to be meeting with restrictions, but the majority have persevered and found a way forward, with many saying they have a greater appreciation for their group.” In fact, although a third of respondents in groups that are currently meeting say that their overall book club experience is not as good as it was last year, half say their group is more important to them.

Although the great majority are looking forward to meeting in person when conditions allow, the study says about one-third of those currently meeting virtually expect their group will retain a virtual element. Three percent, according to BookBrowse, expect all their meetings will be virtual; and 29 percent expect to continue using video technology to allow absent members to join in-person meetings or to host the entire meeting virtually, such as when weather conditions are poor or when many of the members are elsewhere.

You can download the full report for free here.