March 17, 2018

One Book Online | One Cool Thing

One Book, One Community programs are, of course, a staple of public library adult programming. In “One Book, Well Done,” we offered a look at what makes a successful program; in the inaugural One Cool Thing column LJ visited a variation on the theme, the self-published One Book read The ­Slender Poe, from Sacramento Public Library, CA. Now, another twist: in February, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) launched its One Book, One Chicago (OBOC) Online, becoming, it says, the first public library in the nation to offer free, in-browser, social reading of a full novel.

Patrons with a library card can read the whole book via their browsers on a desktop, tablet, or phone with an Internet connection, without downloading an app.

This year’s title, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (AAKC), will be released at www.­ in six serialized installments through May 3. Each subsequent installment will be available for two weeks, so residents citywide can read the book online simultaneously. The library also has 1,584 print copies, 802 of which were checked out at press time. All 95 of its ebook copies were also checked out, with seven holds.

“We’ve long wanted to take OBOC online, both in a serialized reading experience and in a way that encourages engagement,” Chicago library commissioner Brian Bannon told LJ. “We knew that the OBOC Online feature would greatly enhance our patron experience.”

“Yet again, the Chicago Public Library is the first library in the nation to offer a one-of-a-kind experience. This new feature serves as just another example of Chicago pioneering the modern 24/7 library for residents and students,” said Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement.

ljx150301webCoolThingWorking together

The OBOC Online pilot is a partnership with BiblioCommons. Bannon told LJ that CPL “had explored this idea with a previous OBOC title without success. BiblioCommons was looking to create a social reading experience online. In a conversation with BiblioCommons, we brought up our desire to engage patrons virtually with the OBOC title. They talked about how they wanted to create a social experience, so we decided to explore this idea together.”

BiblioCommons already had an online reader called BiblioDigital, which is in beta testing at the Edmonton and New York Public libraries, but the company “added all the social features for the One Book, One Chicago program,” Bannon said. The software that supports the new digital reading platform is a combination of existing Biblio­Commons services, including BiblioCMS, BiblioDigital, and the ­BiblioCore ­catalog.

The social side of the project involves allowing readers to highlight passages, post their favorite quotes to Twitter from within the reader, and invite friends to read with them. The program will also include reading sprints, designated times for people to read online and then join a collective conversation by tweeting their opinions, favorite quotes, and reactions to the narrative. The first reading sprint took place on February 5. CPL estimated that ten to 25 people participated. In the inaugural week of the program, about 200 people logged on to the online reader each day.

“We’re offering a ‘mission’ that corresponds to each part of the book as we release it. The missions challenge readers to engage with the text in a deeper way,” Bannon explained. Tying into the trend of libraries as a place to encourage content creation and not just consumption, “for our first mission, we’re asking readers to create a golem that represents their interpretation of what the golem in AAKC looks like. We encourage them to use whatever medium strikes their fancy, and when they’re done, we ask them to share an image of their golem on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. We’ll feature selected submissions on our website and offer prizes, courtesy of BiblioCommons.”

More to come

Whether any particular title is available for such an innovative lending model is obviously up to the individual publisher, but BiblioCommons is interested in offering a similar experience to other libraries’ patrons in future and believes it can deliver visibility and exposure to publishers’ backlist, midlist, or new authors. (Penguin Random House, publisher of AAKC, did not immediately respond to LJ’s request for comment.)

One Book, One Chicago, supported by Allstate and BMO Harris through the Chicago Public Library Foundation, will retain a more traditional offline component as well. Programs throughout the city, including exhibits, book discussions, panel discussions, musical performances, and storytelling on the theme of Heroes: Real & Imagined began in October 2014 and will continue through April.

This article was published in Library Journal's March 1, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.