Behind the Scenes: The Magic of Books@Work

Behind the Scenes: The Magic of Books@Work

Note: In this post, Operations Manager Capria Jaussen gives us a glimpse of the work she does to keep our programs running smoothly.

I love details and I love people. I find deep satisfaction at the intersection of the two, communicating with people and working to fit many moving pieces together. When I started with Books@Work two and a half years ago, I had no idea how much my role in the company would grow to encompass so many aspects of that intersection.  

As the Operations Manager, I think of myself as supporting our programs “behind-the-scenes,” but in truth, I am also the “face” of Books@Work to virtually every person involved in the program. I have my hands in all of the myriad details needed to make a program run smoothly. This is especially challenging considering how small our team is and that Books@Work meetings take place all over the country: at one point last year we were in seven different states simultaneously!

While we strive to make deploying Books@Work easy for our partners, the reality is that we do a great deal of logistical juggling to create the conditions for the “magic” of Books@Work to happen. Each program is well scaffolded: our team of five works together with our partners to create moments of connection and recognition through thoughtful and engaged conversation. For each session to come off without a hitch, though, all of the participants (as well as the professor) have to be in the right place, at the right time, with copies of a very good book in hand, having all read to the same page – and hopefully not too far beyond!

What that means for me is a lot of emails!  Emails to a company contact person getting dates, times and locations pinned down. Emails to professors. Emails to participants, introducing them to the program and making sure they have all the information needed to participate fully. I coordinate book choices, send reminder emails and schedule interviews. It’s lots of back and forth, with a lot of moving pieces, details and working with people (meaning, I LOVE IT)!

Those details enrich my life too. The enthusiasm of the participants and the intriguing nature of the professors’ book suggestions have spurred me to expand my own reading. I adored Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife and Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. Reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Carson McCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter made me yearn for a Books@Work discussion to share my reactions and hear the insights of others. My reading list is long, growing every time I produce a book choice document and including books participants choose as well as many they forego. I’m currently reading Octavia Butler’s Kindred (a marvelous potential Books@Work book) and my list includes Boris Akunin’s The Winter Queen and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, among others. Every time I go to the library, I work my way down the list.

Piet Mondrian, Gray Tree, 1911, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Piet Mondrian, Gray Tree, 1911, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Although there are many challenges to my work, the one I find most difficult is making sure I stay in touch with the perspectives of all the people I work with. This helps me stay connected to the mission of Books@Work. I strive to keep an “open door” and encourage all of our constituents to reach out whenever and however I might be helpful to them. I never want to feel disengaged from the people we serve – I don’t want to lose the forest for the trees.

The participants themselves most help me avoid this concern. When they send me an email in the normal course of our business interactions, they invariably share a reflection on the program itself or their reactions. I hear things like:

“The unique point of views were amazing. To have multiple outlooks caused for deeper than imagined conversations.”

“I really enjoy your program and I receive so much from it.”

“I think it is a wonderful tool to connect people into a sense of community, and it also serves to bring diverse ideas and experiences to the table in a non-confrontational manner.”

“This has been an eye opening experience for me. I will never just read a book again, I will READ the book!!”

There is nothing more gratifying than knowing that my hard work has facilitated these kinds of experiences. I am honored to feel connected to the stories of everyone I work with and to be part of an organization so dedicated to engaging individuals and transforming communities through the power of shared narratives.

Image: Brady Smith, Morning Misty Clouds Settle in East Clear Creek, 2012, National Forestry Service, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

Further Reading:

Comparing Points of View: A Reading Journey

Breaking Up with a Good Book

Real Magic: Sharing Good Books

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Capria Jaussen

Capria Jaussen

Capria Jaussen is the Director of Operations of Books@Work.