The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Reading Between the Lines: Jefferson-Madison Regional Library

Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville?s "Find the Falcon" program. From top to bottom: The falcon outside Edgar Allan Poe's room at the University of Virginia; at the Hatton Ferry crossing near Scottsville, Virginia; and outside Cuckoo Tavern, where Jack Jouett began his ride to warn the Virginia General Assembly of the British army's approach during the Revolutionary War. Photos courtesy of Jefferson-Madison Regional Library

I continue to be amazed by the creative ways Big Read grantees find to explore literature and get their communities excited about reading. From their Find the Falcon contest, as seen above, to local mystery authors discussing the influence of The Maltese Falcon, and a local private investigator describing modern investigative techniques, Jefferson-Madison Regional Library is a prime example of the way Big Read organizers around the country are finding brilliant and exciting ways to connect their audience with works of literature. We spoke with David Plunkett, circulation manager for Jefferson-Madison Regional Library to learn more about Charlottesville?s fifth Big Read program.

NEA: There has been an annual Big Read program in Charlottesville since 2007. How do you continue to attract new community members to the program?

DAVID PLUNKETT: I think the variety of books that we have chosen has helped quite a bit! We are also constantly looking for new venues to use and new sources of spreading the word. We?re lucky that the Central Virginia area is home to many great readers, and we are also very lucky to have community partners in the Virginia Center for the Book, whose book festival is a great way to spread the word about The Big Read to locals and tourists alike. We try to program creatively for our whole demographic area, and to use the theme of our Big Read books as a jumping off point to connect to other aspects of the lives of our community members. For example, this year?s ?Antiques Roadshow? program played off of the idea that Sam Spade and company didn?t know the value of the object they sought. We were able to bring an appraiser in to look at people?s own antiques and assess them, which brought many new faces into our libraries, where they connected with their community through The Big Read.

NEA: You say on your website that some people were surprised to learn The Maltese Falcon is part of The Big Read library. Why did you choose this novel and what has been your community?s reaction to it?

PLUNKETT: To be honest, we chose this novel because of the exciting and vibrant programming that it led us to! I think we?ve had some folks that have been surprised to see The Maltese Falcon as a Big Read book, mostly because they don?t associate genre novels with literary classics. Our community has loved our programming, and the classic Bogart film certainly has resonated with a lot of people. The book itself has earned a lot of fans, especially once discussions start about everything that has blossomed out of it---from film noir, to private eye novels, to modern TV crime dramas.

NEA: What Big Read event were you most looking forward to?

PLUNKETT: I especially enjoyed the mystery walking tour of downtown Charlottesville, in which historical mysteries and murders were recounted by our guide as we walked by the locations of the crime. Children have LOVED our Birds of Prey program in which our friends at the Virginia Wildlife Center brought falcons and other winged surprises to several of our library locations. Personally, though, I love book discussions---getting to hear from all kinds of people about how they liked or disliked the book. I always end up revising my own opinion after hearing how others have reacted!

NEA: What has been the biggest surprise from your experience with The Big Read?

PLUNKETT: Even after five years of doing this, I?m constantly surprised by how beloved this program is, and how far The Big Read ?brand? has come. People start asking me, ?What?s next year?s book?? at the end of every program! People have really embraced the idea of a community reading event, and I?m always hearing about individuals and book clubs that the library was unaware of taking part in the reading.

Jefferson-Madison Regional Library?s Big Read continues through this weekend. Visit their website for more details. To learn more about The Maltese Falcon, visit


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