Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Reader Development in the UK: An Australian Perspective

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Reader Development in the UK: An Australian Perspective

Article excerpt

A report of a Margery C Ramsey Scholarship study tour of reader development in UK public libraries. It is concluded that reading has a much higher profile in the UK than in Australia, and that it is time for Australian public libraries to strengthen their focus on reader development and their core business of books and reading. Edited version of a paper first published in Public library journal October 2006

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In February 2005 the State Library of Victoria published the Libraries/building/communities report, (1) the first comprehensive Australian study looking at the value public libraries bring to their communities. One of the most extensive research projects undertaken in this area, the study included every public library in Victoria and sought the views and ideas of almost 10,000 people through online and telephone surveys, focus groups and interviews.

The report states that 88 per cent of Victorian library users go to the library to borrow books. Book loans are also rated as the most important service offered by libraries. Yet we have had a 10-15 year period dominated by ICT and information services in terms of service delivery, staff expertise and professional development. Australian libraries now need to refocus on the core business of books and reading, especially with the reader development renaissance being witnessed internationally, particularly in the UK and the US. The main challenge here is that many Australian library staff have lost confidence in giving people advice about books and offering borrowers the chance to try something new to read.

Yarra-Melbourne Libraries had already begun work in reader development through popular reader events and programs, the Reading Room section of its website, and staff training. However it still had a long way to go in making its services truly reader focused. The writer had read about the great things UK public libraries were doing for their readers and took the opportunity to find out more while there in July 2005, including meeting with Opening the Book's Director, Rachel Van Riel.

I was inspired and impressed by the work of the people met, and realised that much more was happening across the length and breadth of the UK. The Ramsay scholarship gave me the opportunity to undertake more research and, ultimately, to share the findings with library staff across Victoria and eventually the rest of Australia.

Reader development in UK public libraries

Reading seems to have a much higher profile--politically and in the media--in the UK than Australia. The recognition of the importance of reader development in UK public libraries is demonstrated in the government's 2003 Framework for the future report. (2) Framework for the future's mission is to bring reading to the heart of every community, and advocates reader development as the key to addressing change in the community. Reading also has a high profile in the UK media. A good example of this is the success of The Richard and Judy Book Club which has brought great reading ideas to the mainstream population.

The recognition of the importance of reader development in UK public libraries can be largely attributed to the work of two organisations--The Reading Agency (TRA) and Opening the Book.

The Reading Agency

The study focused on TRA's work with adult readers and particularly on the work it is doing in media and book trade partnerships with public libraries. Many of the libraries visited across the UK displayed Orange Prize for Fiction promotional material. Penny Shapland of TRA told about training offered to library staff in the Orange Prize. This training covers background information about the prize, action planning, how to engage staff and information about the short listed titles. Also very impressive was the way libraries engage their reading groups with the prize. Mary Greenshields, of Mitchum Library in Glasgow, commented that its library book groups have shadowed the prize and about the real sense of involvement that was gained by these groups in their participation. …

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