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We want Sacramento Public Library to be the place where members of the community enjoy intellectually-stimulating entertainment, learn under the guidance of experts, and interact with like-minded individuals. We had people in our area who were lifelong learners, who wanted to experience classic literature, and who wanted to appreciate Jane Austen but there was not a way for fans of Jane Austen in Sacramento to learn more about her works en masse. In response we developed a series of top-rate programs that exceeded our goals and expectations.
Librarian Stephenee Borelli, M.A., M.L.I.S., utilized her education and networking skills and brought together a variety of experts and scholars to lead a 13-part Jane Austen series called How Austentatious. Events for the series took place twice a month, June-November 2010, and concluded with a tea honoring the author’s birthday in December. Each month retired English professor David Bell introduced one of Austen’s six completed novels; he also wrote study guides and trained a dozen discussion leaders to help groups of readers talk about each novel. To help further the readers’ understanding, local scholars gave talks on topics relevant to the novels, such as Regency etiquette and medicine. Additional experts presented on subjects like 19th century transportation and the Royal Navy. Participants also enjoyed a variety of activities: live performances, English country dance instruction, a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, and a Regency fashion show. Special displays of antique clothing, books, and medical equipment were created. Lastly, more than 200 people attended the birthday tea and enjoyed a talk by a Regency charades expert. Borelli also created the How Austentatious Book Bulletin, an electronic newsletter with links to podcasts, relevant library materials, and websites.
The most popular literary program in the library’s history averaged attendance of 161 per event. Over 350 users signed up for the Book Bulletin, making it the library’s sixth most visited link. The program series was a great collaborative effort of scholars, performers, curators, local businesses, and experts who came from as far as Oregon and Maine to give talks. Participants lauded the program and have encouraged the library to create similar programs. How Austentatious garnered national attention with articles in American Libraries, JASNA News, and local print and media outlets.