An article written by Debbie Williams, Wrexham Library Services Officer
Reading is mostly a solitary activity and there are probably more readers than any other type of art form. Reader development acknowledges the act of reading and identifies the role of the reader as being active rather than passive. Marketing and media representations of literature concentrate on the writer or the book; libraries concentrate on readers by asking, who is the reader? How do we reach them, and why? What influence do readers have on libraries?
There are more guilt’s, shames and snobberies attached to reading than probably any other art form, and whereas some people won’t think twice about these for others they will affect people very deeply and may prevent readers from venturing outside their own reading comfort zone. The skill of reader development encourages people to try something new and different, sometimes offering surprises whilst helping and empowering readers to feel confident about their own reading choices and maybe even taking a few risks!
Reader Development starts from the idea that the reader knows best, but also that we as librarians can have an active role in taking readers into new areas of reading. It is about increasing people’s enjoyment of reading, opening up reading choices, offering opportunities for people to share their reading experience and raising the status of reading as a creative activity.
We do this firstly by training staff to learn the skills needed to guide readers to new reading choices and opportunities. Most of the staff at Wrexham Library service have completed the Frontline Reader Development programme devised by Opening the Book. Opening the Book introduced into promotion a major change and that is to start with the reader and the experience of reading, rather than the author or the book, in other words ‘sell the sizzle not the sausage’. What will you experience by reading this book? Most of the library’s promotions will aim to sell a reading experience rather than books by a particular author e.g. books to make you laugh, cry, or fall in love.
Library staff will never judge what a reader reads and will never reprimand you if you don’t finish a book – life is too short and there are far too many great books out there waiting to be discovered. We all like and enjoy different books at different times of our lives and the key is not to beat yourself up because you don’t like the latest trend, we will help you find the best book you’ve ever read.
The Summer Reading Challenge and Libraries Week are great public platforms for libraries to promote reading and practice reader development. Staff work hard throughout the summer school holidays to maintain children’s reading levels by guiding them to choose a book to read that they will enjoy; and use initiatives such as Libraries Week to market and promote books and reading activities to as many people as we can reach. In practice Wrexham Library service complements national initiatives by creating regular themed promotions of books and reading associated activities aimed at all ages.
Reader development work grows the library audiences and breaks down barriers. A confident reading audience, willing to take risks and try new things, benefits the whole production chain of the literature industry. A skilled and confident workforce will create a better and more relaxed library environment which we hope will result in happier satisfied readers.