Monday, 28 February 2011

the World of Books Day & Night

Its potentially a big week for books. Thursday is the UK's World Book Day. Always thought it was odd that we didn't fit with the rest of the world which holds WBD on April 23rd, but its to do with schools & Easter hols I believe. That aside, World Book Day in the UK has seen massive publisher support for children's reading and in recent years the launch of a new set of Quick Reads.

Quick Reads are a great series of books for people who have never had, or who have lost the habit of reading. Each year 10 titles are published on World Book Day and libraries and learning organisations work hard to get them into the hands of people who may not discover them on their own.

The list of new titles for this year can be seen on the QR website. I notice this year's list includes books by top borrowed author James Patterson, alongside former Monty Python star Terry Jones and a Martial Arts Adventure from Benjamin Zephania. So there should be some really varied and interesting reading to be found.

WBD will be closely followed on Saturday by the first World Book Night
The intention of WBN is that a million books will be given away by a "army of passionate book givers". While there have been some murmurings of scepticism about this venture by some booksellers, writers and librarians ( after all libraries are full of free books all the time- the only difference is we ask you to bring them back), it does seem that it should be successful at getting books into people's hands in some unusual and imaginative ways. Book givers have been recruited in sufficient numbers and certainly from where I am in Manchester, there is a long list of givers who have opted to collect their books from libraries and take them who knows where?

I am excited to be supporting a project which hopefully really will get books into the hands of people who are not already regular book buyers, though we are told, are often voracious readers. Manchester Libraries are supporting The Mustard Tree , a charity which supports homeless and marginalised people. The library service is working in partnership with the Mustard Tree to present an open mic night at which clients of the charity can perform their work. The library service is delighted that the BBC has chosen this event as one to highlight on their special BBC 2 World Book Night programme.

Around the NW region there are plenty of other WBN events as well. It makes me proud as a librarian to see so many library staff, currently working under great pressure, still willing and able to pick up an external opportunity like this and create lively events which will bring books to more readers.

I shall try to give as much publicity as I can to all the events taking place "on my patch".

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Time for some reader development?

Listening to the very positive You and Yours phone-in and discussion about public libraries yesterday, one caller 's remarks jumped out at me. I didn't catch where she called from- but by the sound of her voice she was older, well-educated (mentioned Oxford University) and a keen user of library services- both her small local branch and a larger town centre one. She had moved recently and commented that her local library did not offer her a choice of books. I hope this was over-stating the case. I'm not aware there are any public libraries yet with no books at all. What I suspect she meant was that there were lots of other things more obvious- such as computers, DVDs, music and that she struggled to find a book that she felt she wanted to borrow.

The experts in the studio didn't have time to follow up this person's comments, but I think she was making 2 points. The question of whether libraries have given away too much space to ICT and other services has been in the air for many years now. My own interest in reader development was spurred on by trying to defend the need for books against a policy of expansion for ICT services and the belief by some managers that demand for books would spiral downwards rapidly. Most of us in the profession with a deep love of books have always felt that the two can and should exist side by side. A library isn't a library without books, but we recognise and value ICT services for all that they offer, and yes, libraries should be offering them. Other collections such as DVDs and music are a valuable part of our cultural offer and sit happily within our lending services, providing additional choices to a wide range of people.

Why this person felt she couldn't find a book she wanted to borrow is a more interesting reader development question. Unless this library literally had no books or had bought no new stock for many years, then surely there should have been at least one tempting title. Was it to do with the way the books were presented- all spine -on, leaving the browser no clues as to their content? Or was it to do with the selection- possibly all popular & genre fiction, leaving nothing apparently serious for a demanding reader? Or may be this reader was limiting her browsing to only writers she had heard of previously?

All these questions can be addressed by a library service taking reader development seriously. Consideration of presentation is obvious. Publishers know that covers sell books and many libraries have long been trying to offer more face-on display. Libraries do need to remain aware of looking attractive, contemporary and yes, tidy. Potential borrowers can be very quickly deterred if its difficult to see what might be interesting behind a barrage of For Sale trolleys or beyond a bank of computer desks

If the selection of titles is small and in the face of shrinking bookfunds, this is going to become a problem in most places, then library staff have to work at enticing people to pick up something different. They need to describe books, perhaps on shelf-talkers or by pulling them together into " If you like x you'll love y " displays or lists. They need to "market" books to readers by any means available, through mailing lists, social networking, text messages, by putting on events and activities where books are discussed. Readers are understandably reluctant to try books they know nothing about or which don't seem to match with anything they might have enjoyed before.We need to encourage them to dare something different.

I'm sure even the most narrowly focused reader can be encouraged to try something else for a change, if its presented to them in the right way. Maybe if its won a prize or been reviewed by a serious critic: the library needs to know that and present the information. Perhaps the reader could be asked to read something on behalf of the service and provide a review for a library website or to inform the library's readers groups. By joining a reading group themselves they might soon be able to influence the choice of books being offered. So many ideas come to mind, so quickly.

But all of this requires work and effort. This is reader development in action. The current round of spending cuts is having a massive effect on staffing structures and the sheer capacity of services to deliver. In a time of austerity those libraries which do survive, need to put more effort into retaining existing enthusiastic readers and creating new ones, not less. There is a huge groundswell of vocal support for library services currently and we must surely reflect on whether or not their continued support is deserved.