How we chose a book for KU Big Read

KU Big Read logo e1454187927236

This is a guest post by Alison Baverstock, Associate Professor and Lecturer on the Kington Publishing MA. Along with a team of students, Alison co-ordinated the hugely successful KU Big Read, whereby every new student is given a free book to create a shared sense of community upon starting a course. Here she tells us more about the scheme and how they went about choosing the shortlist for the #KUBR2.

About the KU Big Read

Having found out about Freshers’ Reading Schemes, which are fairly routine in the US, in 2014 Kingston University carried out a research project to explore the extent to which their students might be interested in taking part in something similar – a shared reading scheme to promote a feeling of community amongst those coming to the University before they arrived. Getting very positive reactions from our survey of a representative sample of first years, both about their involvement in reading for pleasure and their attitudes to what was outlined, our VC was keen to implement the idea immediately. He chose the title for our first KU Big ReadAbout a Boy by Nick Hornby, himself a Kingston alumnus.

The KU Big Read was launched in July 2015. Staff were offered a copy to take on holiday with them and a free book was sent to every student registered to join us. We also had titles available in common areas of the University for current students to take home. Discussions and book-related events were held both within the University’s Welcome Week and as part of early teaching and formative activities.

Fairly predictably, the students loved receiving a book with the logo of their university on the front; they consistently referred to their delight in receiving a ‘present’, and talked about feeling ‘welcomed’ and ‘accepted’. The events given by Hornby in connection with the scheme were packed, and after the talk he gave during the first week of term he signed copies of his book for well over an hour. Slightly less expected was the extent to which staff got involved, and we ended up having to reprint the book twice in order to cater for demand. Whole departments (e.g. Finance) adopted the book for team-building and HR included it within their induction programme for new staff.

Nick Hornby signing copies
Nick Hornby signing copies

Amazon is not the only organisation with an effective algorithm

Having assessed all the ways in which we were monitoring the scheme, from its impact on student engagement to surveys of all involved, we decided to run it again – and were then faced with the challenge of how best to choose a book for the second year.

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:

The Humans Feral Girl Meets Boy

images Red-Dust-Road The Boy from Aleppo

We have a diverse selection of titles, each one of which would be an excellent book choice for the entire community. The list was released today and  the Book Selection Committee – drawn from across the University – will make the final choice.

Related Articles


Sign up to our Newsletter


* indicates required

BookMachine Ltd. will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices.