The Santa Barbara Public Library System and UCSB are focusing their fifth annual community reading program on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The program will run until April 11 and includes group discussions with various university professors at the Central Library, Goleta Branch Library, Montecito Branch Library and Campbell Hall. The book will be available in hardcover, CD, audio book, eBook and large print formats at participating libraries.

Davidson Library gave away over 2,000 copies of the book in January and, according to co-chair of UCSB Reads Janet Martorana, the community has already responded enthusiastically to the novel.

“So far there has been a great response by the students and the larger community,” Martorana said. “We had huge lines at our book giveaway in January, and we had about 40 people at our panel last week, which was great.”

The novel focuses on Henrietta Lacks, an impoverished Southern farmer whose skin samples were the first human cells grown for scientific study. The cells, which scientists nicknamed “HeLa cells,” have been used for medical advancements including the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping.

“This is a novel that can be discussed from many different viewpoints,” Martorana said. “Tomorrow we will be hosting a panel with professors from the Black Studies, History and MCDB Depts. That is a wonderful testament to the quality of this book.”

The Cottage Health System, Antioch University Library, Santa Barbara City College’s Luria Library, Westmont College Library, local high schools and Sansum Clinic are also participating in the program.

According to Janet O’Neill, spokesperson and director of public affairs for Cottage Health, the hospital is participating in this year’s reading because of the book’s scientific nature.

“Although we do look at the novel chosen each year, we do not always participate in Santa Barbara Reads,” O’Neill said. “But the somewhat medical influence of this novel really drew us to it. We have been encouraging all our employees to read it.”

Brit Endrietta of Antioch University said the novel’s message correlates with the university’s educational goals.

“We always aim to instill a sense of social justice and cultural thinking in our students,” Endrietta said. “Many of those themes become vital in this novel, and because of that, we felt that it tied in very well to our curriculum.”

For more information, visit the UCSB Reads website at