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Kennedy librarian launches virtual book club

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Two weeks after schools shut down due to Covid-19, Kristen Mogavero, a library media specialist at John F. Kennedy High School, put the wheels in motion to organize a virtual book club for the entire school community.

The first read received significant participation from students and teachers alike, and voting on a second book occurred shortly after on Instagram @JFK_HS and Twitter @bellmorejfk.

“During this isolating time, I wanted to start up a virtual book club to provide students and faculty an opportunity to connect socially,” said Mogavero, a district employee for three years and coach of Mepham’s girls’ varsity lacrosse team. “Books have always served as an escape for readers, and I felt that this is a time when we could all use the opportunity for a mental break.”

After she researched three different options for the club’s first book, she put the decision to a vote via Google Form around April 1. “Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency,” by Douglas Adams, won with 43 percent of the vote.

“I wanted all the choices to be uplifting and interesting books,” Mogavero said. “Douglas Adams, is well known for his absurd writing style and wit in books like ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,’ [which] is described as ‘a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic, mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics.’”

From there, Mogavero reached out to interested readers and provided them with instructions on where they could access copies of the book. “We utilized resources from the public libraries through the use of eBook collections on Overdrive,” she explained. “I created and sent out a suggested reading schedule and set up regular Zoom meetings to discuss the book. It was a lot more challenging to do it remotely, but I was happy with the turnout and everyone seemed to enjoy it.”

Some of the approximately 30 participants purchased a hard copy of “Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.” “I took a survey last year and the large majority of students preferred hard copy books, which surprised me a little bit,” Mogavero said. “Some people just don’t like reading digitally.”

Runners-up in the voting for the first read were “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern and “Lights All Night Long” by Lydia Fitzpatrick.

“I’m incredibly proud of the creative ways that our staff and students are finding ways to stay connected with each other,” JFK Principal Gerard Owenburg said. “We often refer to our school community as a family, and . . . the virtual book club is one of many ways that our Kennedy family is staying connected during this difficult time.”

Mogavero, who said she’s doing everything she can to support teachers and students as they all work remotely, believes the foundation has been poured for the virtual book club to continue in a post-pandemic world.

“It’s a big thing to tackle from the start,” she said. “Now we’re voting on a second book and I’d love for it to continue and grow.”