Kingston University has a really strong sense of community and we are seeking to build on this through development of The Kingston University Big Read.
First offered in 2015, The KU Big Read is a project which aims to make those coming to the university feel welcome before they arrive, and create links between them and the staff and students already here.
On meeting their offer, each new student (undergraduate and postgraduate) will receive a free copy of that year’s special edition KU Big Read title. Current students and staff will be invited to help themselves to a free copy from one of the many locations across each of the university’s five campuses – and they will be available by the end of June, so they can be taken away on holiday and discussed with wider family and friends.
The scheme is based on similar projects in the US which have shown that creating a community through shared reading before students arrive helps them feel welcome, settle in quickly – and adjust to their new life as a student. Whereas a few universities in the UK have experimented with reading schemes linked to specific types of books (e.g. prize winners) within particular faculties, Kingston is the first UK university to establish a scheme on such a wide scale, and to involve both the full university as well as the local community.
The potential relevance of the project was explored through questionnairing first year students in 2015 and having had a very positive response, we trialled the scheme for those joining the university in autumn 2015. Students loved it, and talked of their excitement at receiving a ‘gift’ from their university – as well as feeling ‘expected’ and ‘welcomed’. One of the most interesting findings however was the impact the project had within KU staff; with many more eager to participate than had originally been anticipated. The title chosen for the first KU Big Read was Nick Hornby’s About a Boy.
In 2016, the process for choosing the book became much more complex – the starting point being the suggestions made by staff and students. All are carefully analysed according to a number of criteria considered important for a book all would read and the information is loaded into a database so that comparisons could be made. The result is an algorithm, which produces a shortlist of six titles which a panel of volunteers spend months reading and deliberating over before coming to their final decision of which title will be the chosen KU Big Read. Last year’s winning title was My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal. and in 2016 it was The Human’s by Matt Haig.
A special Kingston edition is commissioned and the book made available to staff and incoming students. Varying events relating to the chosen title will be held in the early weeks of the new academic year, which all are welcome to, students, staff and the wider community. We kick off the year with a series of discussion groups during Welcome Week, as well as talks from the selected author, and a Balloon Debate about how the themes of the book relate to the roles and teaching/research/personal interests of KU Staff. Each year we are growing and adding more, such as our Extreme Reading competition taking place on Twitter and Instagram over the summer.