MIDDLETOWN — Now there’s one more reason to love the local library.
With streaming services and interlibrary loans, book downloading, mobile printing, out-of-the-box programming, homeschooling hubs, and online searchable databases, libraries across the world are trying to boost patronage in inventive new ways.
At Russell Library, that means beer too. And books, of course.
“We’ve been looking to expand into the community. People may not stop by the library, but they may be somewhere else in a space. We reach out to people where they are,” said librarian Christy Billings, who founded Books and Brews, a once-a-month book talk club intended to give people a three-dimensional experience melding opinions with the fruits of small craft brewers.
“People like to stay out at night and they’re going to be at pubs, restaurants or different places. It’s taking the library to the people. This is an adult outreach. It’s not about bookmobiles or those kinds of things,” former community services library Rolande Duprey has said.
This month’s selection, “Commonwealth” by Anne Patchett, will be the topic at 6 p.m. Thursday at Stubborn Beauty Brewery, 180 Johnson St.
These off-site events centered around literature have become extremely popular, Billings said. Every session brings out between 15 and 20 individuals. The core group of people, who don’t necessarily attend every time, however, is about 30.
Some even bring their dogs.
“It is a different space. People already have a commonality — they enjoy beer — so they have something to talk about. Their second commonality is their love of books, even if they haven’t read that particular book,” she said.
Another plus, she’s happy to report, is ample parking at the at the R.M. Keating Historical Enterprise Park off North Main Street.
“With the partnership, we’ve been able to reach the people they reach, and that’s been amazing,” said Billings, who will bring the snacks for participants, some of whom enjoy water or no drink at all.
There’s also no pressing need to have read the book to take part. Billings writes questions down on postcards she passes around to participants. Some speak to universal topics.
“I have questions prepared so they can be part of the conversation. Everybody can contribute,” she said.
According to Good Reads, “Commonwealth” tells the “enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.
“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly — thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
“Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved,” according to Good Reads.
While the premise is literature, on some occasions, many are honest about their intentions: “A lot of people come, and say, ‘I’m just here for the beer,’ and then they participate in the discussion,” Billings said.
Over the decades, libraries have more and more become sources of community engagement in addition to providing information, Billings said. “We’re going out into the community much more and participating where people are.”
Chosen topics are a mix of fiction and nonfiction. Even if readers haven’t enjoyed the read, she still wants their input.
“I choose books I think will have broad appeal, and will have things for us to discuss. I’ve had people come in and say ‘I don’t like the book — but I want to talk about it.’ My goal is for people to enjoy the book, but even if they don’t, come and tell us why,” she said.
The most popular title so far, “Stranger in the Woods” by Michael Finkel is about a hermit who lived in the Maine woods for 28 years. “That book still gets referenced at some of our discussions, because it was such an interesting topic,” Billings said. “My absolutely favorite thing about it is when people say, ‘I didn’t know the library did a book discussion at a brewery’ or ‘I didn’t know the library did that.
“We do a lot of cool things and our job is to let them know about them,” she said.
“The Lager Queen of Minnesota” by J. Ryan Stradal tells the intergenerational story of a grandmother, mother and daughter home brewers. “That one had 100 percent of people who read it,” Billings said, with a laugh.
While social media has its strengths and weaknesses, these platforms allow libraries to lure more people than ever.
“Face to face conversations is something we don’t get as often with everybody on their phone. This is something unique: to have a space to come where people can interact in a way where you can have a conversation, talk about what you think, and hear about what other people think — and enjoy a good beer,” Billings said.
Also in the works is One Book One Middletown, a program that invites all members of the community to read a single title and participate in book discussions and related activities throughout March and April.
“The Overstory” by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Powers will prompt a book talk in a kayak this spring on Crystal Lake in Middletown.
For this, staff will be partnering with the recreation department to offer kayaks.
Also slated are related programming, including fly fishing and “forest bathing: meditative hiking in the woods where you’re bathing in the forest itself,” Billings said. “You’re breathing in what the trees give off.”
The March 12 selection will be “Ordinary Grace” by William Kent Krueger.
The event is sponsored by The Friends of the Russell Library. There is no registration or purchase required. For information, visit russelllibrary.libcal.com/event/5767655 or call 860-347-2528. Copies of “Commonwealth” are available at the library. Billings will also bring some to the event Thursday.