Developing Reader Development
Staff at the Harris Library, Preston, on World Book Day
Lancashire's approach to Reader Development had always been piecemeal, relying on individual initiatives or promotions. We had difficulty addressing the task in an authority with five distinct Divisions and almost a hundred service points.
We have undergone a period of considerable change with the introduction of the People's Network, putting all our staff through ECDL and introducing a new computer system. We felt we were struggling to match initiatives in other authorities.
In October 2002 we formed the Reader Development Group, which was based around a weekly meeting of the Bibliographical Service Officers from around the county. We took it upon ourselves to drive Reader Development by concentrating on three areas - stock, staff and readers.
By meeting weekly and talking/thinking 'Reader Development' every day it soon became part of our culture to buy stock to support Reader Development. This might seem like stating the obvious but to get away from a branch-based buying policy allowed us to concentrate on areas for exploiting promotions,
- Themed display units in all service points, using custom built furniture, which change every couple of month.
- The setting up of 'Reading Chains' in smaller branches and on the mobiles (which was soon picked up and featured on Radio 4).
- The establishment of collections to support Reading Groups.
- The creation of 'Books 2 Go', quick pick areas in most of the larger libraries.
- The co-ordination of book selection to reflect national and regional promotions, bestsellers and prizewinners.
At the same time we drew up a Library Audit, which uses best practice to inform the layout and appearance of our libraries.
Library staff have always produced good promotions and display ideas - we wanted to tie this together to involve more reluctant staff and to ensure any displays were not one-offs but the ideas used could be developed at a number of locations.
Staff had already received some ICT-related Reader Development training as part of the ECDL process. We were anxious to build on this, as well as introducing staff to 'modern' thinkers such as Paco Underhill and the work of 'Opening the Book'. We used Anne Caldwell as a trainer to take 160 staff through a 'Reader Development for Managers' course in 2003-2004. A follow up questionnaire examined what staff have done since and where we need to go next. This roll out will continue this year, as well as specific identified training such as 'Setting up a Reading Group'.
Our next aim is to establish forums for 'interested' staff at a local level as a platform for branches to spread good ideas and best practice. This sounds simple but in a large authority it has proved a major stumbling block in the past. Using evidence-based management techniques we are hoping to quickly build a 'toolbox' of tried and tested ideas.
... Ironically the readers are the last people we turned to. It was only after establishing the platform for the 'right' type of stock and empowering staff that Reader Development can start in earnest.
- Reading Groups are multiplying (over 40 at the last count).
- Themed displays are well received, the feedback is used to inform stock selection.
- Reader-to-Reader whiteboards have been successfully piloted and will be put in all libraries over the next 12 months.
This brings us up to date and in a way we feel we are only just starting out. Over the last 18 months we've been playing catch up with other authorities, but with a Reader Development and Literacy Strategy in place, staff trained and motivated and Reader Development enjoying prominence at both regional and national level we are ready to fly.