United Methodist Women’s Reading Program has a powerful history and a vital present. For decades, United Methodist Women has been reading as part of our commitment to learning about the world, deepening our spirituality and missional engagement, and hearing the voices of women who we might never meet any other way. Books and magazines are ways that we broaden our awareness beyond what our study of history and focus on current events in newspapers and magazines can offer. They are also ways that we deepen our skills so that we are prepared to respond to the concerns we see.
We have a wide circle of United Methodist Women evaluators who read every book being considered for the Reading Program, and every title considered by the selection committee has at least two and often three positive recommendations.
In many units there is a shared commitment to reading, and some have a reading program circle. You will read more about that in this issue of response. You may also know that the way we distribute Reading Program books is changing.
Years ago it was harder to find books from small presses, those written by women and racially diverse authors, and it was even more expensive to access these books. Before the prevalence of interlibrary loans, it was hard to get access even in some local libraries to titles that were relevant to our members and our work. The practice of the national office purchasing quantities of books and making them available throughout the organization broke down some of the barriers to distribution. Today, with Internet book distributors and searching availability and publishers printing smaller quantities of titles for specialized audiences, there is more accessibility than ever before.
Previously, United Methodist Women bought the books at a discount and sold them to members at the retail price, applying the margin to fund the costs of operation. That worked well with high sales volumes and before consumers had regular access to discounted book sales. Now members are able to access discounted books in many places, and sales volumes have declined. As a result, the efficiency and the need for us to operate our own distribution system is no longer as compelling or as financially viable. As secretaries of program resources and conference presidents know, beginning Jan. 1, 2019, we will no longer be distributing copies of Reading Program titles at mission resources.
As conferences have begun to explore the new ways to support our reading “habit,” we have received some good feedback. We would like to hear from you as well—with your stories of how you engage with the Reading Program and with experiences you have with the new ways to access these resources. Tara Barnes and Andris Salter in particular are looking forward to hearing about your experiences.
Our commitment to the Reading Program and continuing our learning as United Methodist Women continues. One thing that has been a constant throughout my own spiritual development and my finding of thoughtful ways to engage with the world is reading. It often sends me to prayer, and it undergirds my action. I look forward to reading the year’s Reading Program books along with you as a part of developing my own faith, hope and love in action.
Harriett Jane Olson
United Methodist Women
Originally published in Response magazine, December 2018