Librarian turns matchmaker in “Blind Date with a Book” program

Feb 5, 2024

For the lonely bookworms looking to spice things up this Valentine’s Day, librarian Caryn Gagner is setting readers up on blind dates with “secret books” at the Southworth and North Branch libraries this February.

Say goodbye to judging a book by its cover. “Blind Date with a Book” is a program where library-goers choose from a selection of “secret books” concealed in wrapping paper. Each secret book is adorned with a felt heart containing a brief blurb that serves as a clue to entice the reader without giving away the book’s identity.

“I like to see which blurbs attracted people,” Gagner said, adding that she’ll sometimes use snippets from book reviews in the blurbs. 

Inside each secret book is a raffle ticket that readers can fill out and return to the library afterwards for a chance to win a gift card and a box of chocolates. The winner will be chosen on Feb. 29. The Friends of the Dartmouth Libraries helped buy the prizes. The books are processed as a normal library rental and will still need to be returned by the book’s date partner. 

The program includes both print and audiobooks spanning a variety of genres including young adult, mystery and, of course, romance. 

“My true love is historical fiction and YA,” Gagner said of her reading preferences. 

She keeps a close eye on each book’s dating profile to see which are getting checked out the most. When a book is quickly returned, she takes it as a sign that it was a quick read and that the blind date was a smashing success. 

As Gagner put it, a good book is like a good cup of tea in that it gives you exactly what you need at that time in your life. 

“Tea will go where it’s needed in your body,” she said. “I think books do the same thing. You’ll find a book that you need for yourself or for you to help somebody else through a situation or a time in their lives.”

But not every blind date is a success, she said. Much like ditching a date at a restaurant or faking an “important” phone call in the middle of a dinner, Gagner said that some readers will probably return the book without getting past the front page.

“There’s some people that opened the book and probably just brought it back without reading it,” she said. “That person probably just got in the door at the restaurant, looked around and said ‘Nah, I’m all set.’”

But some of the secret books have already been checked out multiple times. Gagner said that her favorite part of being a book matchmaker is hearing about the good blind dates when the books are returned. The Blind Date with a Book program helps people to discover new genres and authors that they normally wouldn’t read, she explained, and reading new books “makes you open up to new ideas, new feelings.”

One of the secret books is the first installment of a long-running mystery series. It’s already been checked out a few times. 

“I’m hoping that I led that person in a journey of 26 books,” she said.

The library staff helped select the books, which Gagner wraps in pink paper like Valentine’s Day presents. Gagner chose some of the books from her personal reading log, including some that she didn’t like. It wasn’t until she was in her 30s when she taught her eldest son to read that she became an avid reader, she said. 

Every Wednesday, she checks the numbers to see which books are getting more dates than others. This isn’t Gagner’s first dance with Blind Date with a Book. Before she proposed the program to Dartmouth Public Libraries in November, Gagner ran this program for 5 years at her previous library job. 

There’s always the chance that someone might pick a secret book that they’ve read before, and sometimes that’s just what a reader needs. 

“Re-reading a book is not a bad thing because you get a different point out of it,” she said. “It hits you in a different way.”