‘Big’ literacy project that brought community together ends after 13 years

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

Organizer: “The Big Read really brought the community together around books.”

A program that has given people throughout the region something to talk about has ended after more than a decade.

The Big Read, a multi-library initiative launched in 2005 and inspired by the American Library Associations's One Book, has ended.

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Organizers say the project’s death rattle began to sound in May when the Dayton Metro Library announced that it would no longer serve as the project’s lead organizer and promoter.

Other local library systems contacted for this story are considering new programs and projects in wake of The Big Read’s demise. 

Chuck Duritsch, Dayton Metro Library's external relations manager, said The Big Read was no longer effective when balanced against staff hours and, to a lesser degree, financial resources needed to pull it off.

There is a decline in community reads locally and nationwide, he said.

“It was something that was really important to us when we initiated it but times change and we want to stay with trends and what our patrons want,”  Duritsch said.

“We need to be stewards of our taxpayer money and bring in the program that they want to see.”

A breakdown of how much money and time were expended on the project was not immediately available.

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

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Dayton Metro Library will instead focus on a variety of book club programs — several of which are already in place, Duritsch added.

“We don’t want to be confined to one book,” he said. “We want to be able to offer several titles.”

With the shift away from The Big Read, library staff will be able to spend more time on other projects, he said.


The Dayton Daily News was a partner in The Big Read when it launched in 2005 with Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.”

The newspaper eventually discontinued its direct support, Duritsch said.

The project took a hiatus for 2013, but returned the following year and each since.

>> The Big Read is back

About 14 Miami Valley college and public library systems including  Bradford Public Library, Franklin-Springboro Public Library,  Germantown Public Library, Greene County Public Library, Kettering College, New Carlisle Public Library, Sinclair Community College, Tipp City Public Library, Troy-Miami County Public Library, University of Dayton, Washington-Centerville Public Library, Wright Memorial Public Library and Wright State University Libraries took part in The Big Read.

Books and Co. and Project Read were also involved.

After Dayton's decision to step back as the leader was announced in May, Elizabeth Schmidt of Oakwood's Wright Memorial Library said Greene County said it would pull out of the collaboration.

Elizabeth Cusack, the deputy director for the Greene County library,  said that her system is considering its options, but is likely to have a community read for Greene County.



In recent weeks, Schmidt, The Big Read’s selection committee co-chair, said the remaining and considerably smaller libraries decided that they could not  support the infrastructure necessary to undertake The Big Read as the Dayton library had.

“There was a lot of funding and staff time that Dayton Metro devoted to The Big Read,” she said. “The smaller libraries, we couldn’t really support that.”

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Past Big Read books include last year's "The Underdogs" by Melissa Fay Greene about the founding of Xenia based Paws for Ability" "The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough in 2017 and "Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline in 2016.

“The Big Read really brought the community together around books,” Schmidt said. “It was great to have community discussion around different topics.”

She said her library is for now concentrating on its series of community converations designed to spark discussion. It might partner with the school system on an Oakwood community read in the future.

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Drew Wichterman, adult services librarian for Tipp City Public Library, said eight to nine library systems in Darke in Miami counties decided Tuesday to undertake a read similar to The Big Read.

“We are still in the process of coming up with the name,” he said.

Library patrons will vote on a book for the community read in September and an announcement about the book will me made in November.

“We will have the program in March,” he said.

He said the participating libraries, the Troy library included, believe that community reads can be effective.

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“We are all small libraries. Being community center is important to our libraries.  We felt that having a community read to bring the community together was important to us,” he said.

Bill Schlimme, the adult services manager at the Troy library, said The Big Read remained popular in Troy, but his library had fewer programs than Dayton library did for The Big Read.

“It was such a big investment of time and resources (for Dayton),” he said. “Everyone understood where Dayton was coming from. It is a lot of time.”



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