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How to Host a Night Shift Book Club

Book lover and NICU nurse Kelsey Donmoyer shares how she started a book club for night shift workers—now 471 members strong.

After I graduated from nursing school, I accepted a permanent night shift position in an adult shock trauma ICU unit in a hospital where I knew absolutely no one. I was far from home and just beginning to find my way as a baby nurse, so I turned to my long-time comfort activity—reading— during lunch breaks and slow nights. 

Slowly but surely, I met new people and found that reading was a great conversation icebreaker. Before long, I was sending coworkers home with post-it notes of my favorite thrillers. (These were the “good ‘ol days” before Goodreads, Bookstagram and BookTok—a post-it was about as fancy as we got.)

After a few years, I began posting what I was reading lately on my Instagram stories and found that I got so many messages from friends and coworkers asking for more book recommendations. 

 

The early months of our book club were comprised of just a few coworkers and friends outside of work. Since then we have grown to a group of 471 members. 

 

An online book club is born 

After transferring to the NICU and noticing that lots of other people were reading and discussing books between care times at night, I thought it would be fun to create a book club to create a specific space to discuss what we were reading. 

But as anyone who works night shift or any type of inpatient position, you know it’s nearly impossible to coordinate a dozen schedules and organize a meeting time. So I had to get creative. 

I put out a feeler on Facebook asking if anyone would be interested in an online space to discuss books. The response was overwhelming! Thus, in the midst of a 2 am night shift lunch break, the Shelf Care Book Club was born. (It actually took us six years to name our book club. For the longest time we were simply just “Book Club”).

The early months of our book club were comprised of just a few coworkers and friends outside of work. Since then we have grown to a group of 471 members. 

While not every one is engaged all the time, we have a solid group of about 30 people who actively participate in discussions. A lot of them are current and former nurses, respiratory therapists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and physicians that I have worked with, but a great deal are also friends of friends who have been added along the way. 

 

In the midst of a 2 am night shift lunch break, the Shelf Care Book Club was born.

 

How to promote engagement

I initially was worried people would lose interest after a while, but I’ve found a few key actions that allow me to keep things fresh and fun.

 

Make It Low-Stress (no deadlines!)

Nurses are busy. Our schedules are crazy and ever-changing and sometimes that makes it hard to plan for a regular monthly event on one specific night. Additionally, between the stresses of work and home life, not everyone can commit to reading a book in a certain time period. 

To overcome this, I’ve found that utilizing a Facebook album of all our book club picks is super helpful. Each month, I:

 

  • Create a poll with five or six potential books for that month
  • Ask everyone to vote for which one interests them the most
  • Post the winning book cover in the Facebook album
  • Encourage folks to head over to the comments section at any point once they finish the book to discuss their thoughts and opinions. 

 

This approach ensures there are no “deadlines”. If it’s a busy month, there’s no pressure to read the book and the books remain in the album in case anyone wishes to review them in the future. If the book of the month title isn’t for them, it’s also a great place to find other suggestions for something that may suit them better. 

 

Make It Diverse

Just like the many nursing personalities on a night shift, there are many reading personalities. When creating our monthly polls for voting, I try to include a variety of genres. 

While our most popular picks have been fiction, romcoms, and thrillers we have also read historical fiction, nonfiction and fantasy. I try to do “themed months” to make things fun— romances for February, beach reads for the summer, mysteries and thrillers in October and holiday reads in December.

 

Book pick inspiration

Here are some of the Shelf Care Book Club’s most discussed monthly picks:

Beartown – Fredrik Backman
They Never Learn – Layne Fargo
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V.E. Schwab
A Flicker in the Dark – Stacy Willingham
Every Summer After – Carly Fortune
Pack Up The Moon – Kristan Higgins
Carrie Soto is Back – Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Diamond Eye – Kate Quinn
Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmus
Fourth Wing & Iron Flame – Rebecca Yarros

 

Make It Engaging

One of the best parts about our particular book club is that we are not just focused on one specific book of each month. Participants are free to create a post about any book they are reading in order to find a friend to discuss it with. 

Every other week, I post a request for everyone to share their “Last, Now and Next” reads. This generates a lot of fun book suggestions and allows people to ask for recommendations as well. To keep it fun, I also ask people to share their favorite camera roll picture of the week which helps put faces to names and share a little bit about member personalities! 

Four times a year, we also do a quarterly book exchange, which seems to be the highlight for everyone who participates. We set a $30 limit, pick names, then send our partner books, snacks and self-care goodies in a care package – this never fails to brighten everyone’s day. 

 

Make it Meaningful

To celebrate our book club’s five-year anniversary last July, we decided to choose a community service fundraiser to send some goodness out into the world. Members donated over 120 new baby books to my hospital’s NICU so parents are able to read to their infants while hospitalized. 

This year, our group chose to donate adult books to be used in care packages for patients receiving chemotherapy at another local hospital’s cancer center. 

It gives everyone a great sense of purpose to be able to share our love of reading with others and warms my heart to be surrounded by such kind-hearted people. 

 

Make it Fun

At any point in time, I have at least five books loaned out to coworkers. I love getting them back and hearing how someone enjoyed a book I recommended or seeing it passed around amongst several coworkers. 

To keep the book club invigorated at work, I’ve began keeping a “locker library”. I throw a few popular books in there and coworkers know they can peek in there and see if there’s anything they might be interested in reading. If you have the space in your unit, a Little Free Library is an amazing addition and allow staff to exchange reads amongst one another. 

 

 

 

The role of book clubs

Eleven years of night shift has come with its fair share of experiences, exhaustion, and emotions, so there is nothing I value more than escaping into the pages of a book. 

I’m also so grateful to have had the opportunity to create a fun, low-stress space where my coworkers and I can discuss something we love without having to commit one of our sacred nights off to a monthly meeting. This little corner of the world has brought me a lot of joy and a little escape from the craziness of hospital life. 

It’s also a little mind-boggling to see how much we’ve grown. It’s so reassuring to know that, even if one’s season of life isn’t currently filled with reading, this wonderful group of book lovers is always there waiting.

 

 

Last updated: 2024-01-08

Picture of Kelsey Donmoyer

Kelsey Donmoyer

Kelsey works as a night shift NICU nurse in Pennsylvania. When she's not rocking scrubs, she runs the popular IG account @NightShiftReads, where she writes amazing reviews for must-read books.

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