Novel idea continues to grow

If a woman doesn’t have time to shave her legs, then she doesn’t have time to sit down and read a book.

That was the sentiment that spawned the business now exposing South San Francisco Library patrons to new authors and books via their e-mail.

South City’s public library started its online book clubs last June with the help of DearReader.com, a 1999 startup run by Suzanne Beecher. The clubs caught on and grew quickly, and now boast a membership roster of 120.

“A lot of our patrons are using more online services,” said Angela Bernal-Silva, a management assistant at the library and online club member. “It seemed like a good way to get in touch with them.”

South San Francisco Public Library is one of 3,000 across the U.S. and Canada taking advantage of the program, Beecher said. She introduced her program to libraries in 2000.

Members can choose from multiple genres including fiction, nonfiction, mystery, teen, classic and romance, and they can also receive portions of audio books through their email alerts.

The e-mails contain a quick five-minute portion of that week’s selected book in the genre, and it’s a good way to be exposed to authors or books otherwise unknown, City Librarian Valerie Sommer said, because the club doesn’t focus entirely on best-sellers or award-winners.

The thought is that after a week’s worth of teasers, someone is more likely come to the library and check out books.

Users can also discuss the book on an online post board, Bernal-Silva said, creating a nationwide dialogue on the particular book.

Just before 2000, Beecher owned a company with predominantly female employees.

Word got around that employees didn’t have time to read due to time spent at work and with thier children. The problem was memorably explained, Beecher said, by one who said she didn’t have time to shave her legs, let alone read.

So Beecher began typing out passages of “Tuesdays with Morrie” and e-mailing them out to employees who quickly became hooked.

“Our theory is that if somebody gets hooked on a book they’re going to make the time to read,” Beecher said.

The e-mails aren’t reviews either, Sommer said, but actual short excerpts from the book creating a “nice way of online browsing.”

“We always like to try new and creative ways to get our materials moving out the door,” Sommer said of the free-of-charge clubs.

The library is currently running a one-year pilot program of the service at a cost of $575, and itssuccess will be measured next year when it is evaluated for continuation.

dsmith@examiner.com

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