Reader Development in Manchester
Stephen Colegrave and Kevin Harris authors of the book Inside Music 2005
Reader Development is in what could be described as a transitional phase in Manchester! An exciting thing is hopefully about to happen, which has the potential to radically change the scene - the appointment of a Fiction and Reader Development Co-ordinator, who will have responsibility for reader development across the city. This is actually my job, but as I am currently covering for your very own Jane M, we are advertising for a replacement for me on a fixed term 2-year contract. To have a dedicated post in Manchester, someone who can concentrate on and prioritise reader development, will make such a difference. Having said that, I feel very proud of what certain enthusiastic members of staff have managed to achieve already.
Partnership working has always been a strength in this city and we have recently run the Festival of Manchester Writing jointly with Commonword, a community writing group based in the city centre. This year's Festival adopted dual cultural identity as it's theme - aimed at those who read and write in English, but who would identify themselves as coming from a different cultural background. We ran 4 workshops with Arts Council funding, looking at the experience of being Chinese-British, South Asian-British, Caribbean-British and African-British, culminating in an evening Showcase event at Manchester's Green Room, where students and tutors alike had the opportunity to showcase their work.
'In the City' is an annual music bonanza held in Manchester, attended by music enthusiasts from all over the world. The main aim is to showcase (it's that word again!) new unsigned musical talent and it is famous among talent scouts and A&R people. Libraries have never previously participated - but that changed this year, as we hosted the launch of a new book called 'Inside Music 2005.' The launch was a panel event consisting of the two authors, Stephen Colegrave and Kevin Harris, who came up from London; Tony (24 Hour Party People) Wilson; the writer and broadcaster, John Robb, from the band Goldblade; and Otilla, charismatic young manager of hot new Manchester band, Raw T. This very successful event definitely holds the record for the highest number of swear words ever uttered at a public library event, much to the delight of the 70 or so music-mad 14-20 year olds, who packed out the Spotlighters Bar in the Library Theatre. They bombarded the panel with questions and comments about every aspect of the music business and it was fascinating to speculate which one of them could be the new Oasis?? Events like this are crucial to reader development, as they can change forever the way the library service is perceived by a target group we don't generally have much success in reaching.
Reading Groups are in their infancy in Manchester compared with most other library authorities: however, the ones we host are flourishing and we have agreed to take part in Tom Palmer's 'Reading Partners' scheme, running later in the year. This Reading Agency project has undertaken to look at why there are so many authors around, whose novels are well-reviewed, who might even win prizes, but whose sales and library issues remain disappointing. To try and bring quality, literary fiction to a wider audience seems to me to be an excellent aim for reader development and the fact that publishers, designers and editors have actually asked for the views of the sort of readers they are attempting to attract, is very encouraging. More partnerships!
We ran a scheme for World Book Day last year, which seemed to go down well with staff and public alike. It was called 'Library Loves' and it involved staff choosing their favourite book and writing a review of it on a specially designed card. The only stipulation was that the book should be in stock in Manchester Libraries, so that we could use the reviews to promote the books. There were displays put on in many libraries and the whole enterprise led in beautifully to the BBC's 'The Big Read'. We finished off by polling all the City Council staff to find Manchester's very own Big Read - over 2,000 staff took part and do you want to know which novel won? Of course you do - the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy by Philip Pullman.
So - exciting times ahead for Manchester, I believe. We need to make sure that our events and initiatives are not too much Central Library based and we have several target groups for future reader development:
- Gay and Lesbian population in the city centre.
- Young parents in socially challenging areas.
- Asian women across the city.
Any ideas from anyone who's already had success with any of these groups gratefully considered.....
'In the City' panel.
Cultural Services Manager