September 21, 2017

Move Over, Rachael Ray | Programs That Pop

The Gold Coast Public Library (GCPL), Glen Head, NY, wouldn’t exist if it had not been for Girl Scout Troop #61. In 1997, when working to meet the requirements for the ”My Community” badge, one young scout asked her leader, “Why doesn’t our community have a library?” This was just the first step in a long process spearheaded by devoted residents. GCPL opened in summer 2005, when residents overwhelmingly voted to establish the library district. The library adopted the slogan, “Powered by Community.” This community values libraries and the services they offer. As such, GCPL strives to add programs that bring old and new patrons together and foster the sense of community. Our newest book club, “Cook the Book,” does both. The cookbook collection is a hot section and, therefore, one of our best sources of new service ideas. The club, inspired by an article in a local paper about programs available in libraries, brings together patrons who love to cook over a meal and conversation about cooking and recipes.

ljx150302webProgramPopPlanning the menu

Three cookbooks are selected based on themes such as pies, appetizers, cupcakes, salads, and fruit and vegetable dishes and put on display at the reference desk.

From within those titles, patrons pick a recipe that piques their interest. A Post-it note bearing their name marks the recipes and prevents multiple members from choosing the same dish. A member of the staff makes a copy of the recipe for the patron to take home.

Participants prepare the recipe and bring it to the meeting to share; it is that simple. They only make one regular size recipe, enough that everyone gets a taste—no need for doubling. Anyone interested in joining just has to stop by the library to register. The book club is free and open to GCPL and non­district residents. Generally, about six to 12 people participate. While we’ve told patrons that they can bring a friend if they prepare a dish, in practice, we have never had someone attend who did not cook. Nor have we had any problems with allergies, or any interest in our attempt at a gluten-free theme.

Spread the word (& the butter)

All our efforts at publicizing the new club include this introduction:

Do you love browsing through cookbooks and trying new recipes or cooking techniques? Do you enjoy sampling and sharing new dishes? Then hang onto your spatula! We pick the cookbook(s); you choose and make a recipe. Then we all partake. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to participate. Novices will have the chance to learn from more experienced cooks, and the experienced cooks will have a chance to show off and share their amazing skills.

It works—we’ve had all skill levels attend the nine sessions held since 2012.

An article about the program launch was submitted to the local paper. Pictures posted on Facebook showed the dishes—each could have been on the cover of the next month’s issue of Food Network Magazine. The program was also included in the library’s bimonthly newsletter and email alerts and highlighted on the rotating ad on our website.

Chef prep

We hold the program at lunchtime, around 1 or 2 p.m. On the day the program takes place, setup in our community room (about 20 minutes, mostly making coffee and tea) includes tables to serve as a buffet, with cards identifying each dish. We always make sure to have extra serving spoons and knives, along with the standard utensils. We try to have plastic bags on hand so that patrons can pack up any leftovers. They also help with the cleanup, so it only takes one staff member to run the program. I cook a dish, too, on my own time; the library pays for the ingredients.

A booklet containing each of the recipes is a guide for running the discussion portion of the program. After everyone has filled their plates, we start to talk about the dishes. Some conversation starters are:

  • Was there anything particularly difficult about the recipe?
  • Were any ingredients hard to find?
  • Did you make any substitutions or changes that you would recommend?
  • Any helpful hints if we wanted to try to make it at home?
  • Would you make it again?

The takeaway

Besides helping members of the community connect to one another and promoting the resources in the library’s culinary collection, this program expands participants’ palates—and librarians’, too. There have been dishes I would never have chosen to make on my own that were delicious. One hopes this program will bring the next “Top Chef” into your library.

It is already working for a neighboring library, Rockville Centre Public Library, which used it to honor “Pi(e) Day” (March 14).

Amy Compton is Reference Librarian, Gold Coast Public Library, Glen Head, NY

This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.