Choosing a book to be read by the entire community of freshers, at both undergraduate and Masters level, as well as all the staff who want to be part of the scheme, is a difficult requirement. The main functions of the scheme are engagement and inclusion, and it was important that The KU Big Read project felt owned across the institution. We felt that any book chosen should be able to draw the community together and emphasise our common humanity – not that it should nestle close to each discipline on offer. We quickly concluded that choosing a title that would please everyone would be impossible, so finding a book that could be read by all with interest – and provoke discussion – was our aim.
Time was however against us. If this scheme is to operate annually (our aim) then the need to choose a book will roll around very quickly. And this year no one was able to put their life – or job – on hold and read the entire list of 100 suggestions made by staff and students. We therefore decided to try to be scientific about the choice and worked with the Kingston University IT department and a local data analyst Jackie Steinitz (Alison’s research partner for recent work on self- publishing and Publishing Studies as a discipline) to establish an algorithm that would generate a shortlist of six titles – which would then be read by a Book Selection Committee.
Sticking with our grounding in this as a project centred on student engagement, we isolated the criteria that were important to the student community – e.g. availability of the author to come and speak about their book; page count; recency; location; gender neutrality of the cover; had it been on the GCSE syllabus? – and worked with a group of students to discuss the weightings that should be applied, depending on the respective importance of these criteria.
Pleasingly the resulting shortlist is a very good outcome. We have a diverse selection of titles, each one of which would be an excellent book choice for the entire community.