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1984/48: A Book Discussion Series

Brooklyn Public Library

Contact Name: Nick Higgins,
Type of Initiative: Civic Engagement   


BPL is hosting a book discussion group on George Orwell's 1984 that will convene every month for 48 months. The series was conceived in mid-November as a response to an emerging shared anxiety communicated to us by many in our communities and by some of our staff.  A long running community led book discussion demonstrates an affirmative and intentional expression of core library values of community building, respect for diversity, and intellectual curiosity.  We had in mind a book that enjoys broad public resonance and timeless cultural and political relevance. Even for those who have not read 1984, language like Big Brotherdoublethink, and thought police is so ingrained in the public consciousness that we understand immediately we’re in for a sustained conversation about government overreach and abuse. The 48 month part works as a neat inversion of the title that also echoes the story of Orwell’s own supposed inversion of the year 1948 when coming up with the title of his book. The monthly groups began meeting on January 12th and are currently booked with registrations through November 2017. Each discussion cycle is designed to be unique from the last, requiring the most recent discussion leader to hand the keys over to a different community member, writer, artist, teacher, etc. Each facilitator is expected to come up with additional readings to go alongside 1984. BPL promotes the series, communicates to the individuals in the monthly cohorts, prints out articles, provides the space, and helps with other odds and ends. The direction of the discussion and the topics from the book that are covered are decided upon by the facilitator and community members. The January group drew 20 participants (the max allowed) for all three sessions. The participants represented a diversity of ethnic groups, ages, and educational backgrounds. The cohort read Howard Zinn essays, discussed an Orwell piece on censorship, watched a Christopher Hitchens talk on YouTube, read an intro to globalization, looked at various articles from The Guardian and The New York Times, and watched Annie Lennox sing “Julia” ( The January group has also organized themselves on a Google group and are keeping in touch by sending notes and articles to one another. We intend to continue offering ways in which groups can share ideas with their own groups, and with the other groups in the years to come.