On Sunday, Dean Bolton sent out an all-campus e-mail asking students to send in book nominations for the 2013-14 Williams Reads program. This solicitation is a new decision for the program, which has generally contacted the campus within daily messages or gathered ideas through smaller groups such as College Council, the Minority Coalition or faculty groups.
“My understanding is that the way it’s always been done is that the campus as a whole has been solicited for ideas,” Bolton said. “[This year] I just said, ‘Why don’t I e-mail students.’”
This year will be Bolton’s first as chair of the Williams Reads Committee. She explained that the solicitations for book nominations occur in the spring, and after receiving the nominations, committee members narrow the list to around 10 books that they will read over the summer and be able to discuss and cast the vote on their final selection in the fall. “You have to have a lot of lead time for the Williams Reads books because sometimes faculty want to weave them into their course or do a Winter Study or bring somebody high-profile [to campus],” Bolton said.
Bolton also discussed the manner in which the committee narrows the list of possible selections. “We read reviews, we talk about what we’ve done before … We try to talk about what perspectives have and haven’t been represented,” she said. Bolton also pointed to the importance of choosing a book that is accessible to students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds, “something that feels welcoming and that is broadly topical enough that it will be interesting to a lot of members of the community.”
Bolton elaborated that the decision to send an all-campus e-mail in addition to a daily message stemmed from discussions between herself and Instructional Technology Specialist Trevor Murphy, who had written the daily messages for Williams Reads in the past, on how to collect more “fruitful input” from the campus. According to Bolton, in the past Murphy would receive only a few recommendations, and they often came with little explanation of the selection’s value to the community. Bolton said committee members hope that the e-mail will spark more conversation and nominations, which they can then use in discussions amongst themselves and with smaller groups of students, staff and faculty.
Despite the fact that, due to time constraints, the Class of 2016 will not get to vote on the book for the 2013-14 program, the administration will collect their feedback on the Williams Reads program, as they will have been the first to experience its new iteration.