Close reading VI: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter six: Staff training in working with readers

This chapter was not particularly relevant to the New Zealand school library setting – most of us have a very small staff (read one or less), so workplace staff training is not a big issue. I also think most of us pride ourselves on knowing our book stock, which is a large part of creating a reader-centred service.

One quote did resonate with me, however, from page 195:

Library staff in front line roles in the UK have always been expected to learn about the process more than the product.

I think that as under-resourced staff, school librarians often get caught up in the processes of their libraries rather than focus on their users. This was a good reminder to keep putting my community at the centre of what I do – not the stuff and how the stuff is organised. It’s also good to question the exisiting processes you have – why are you doing it? is it necessary? does it make a difference to your users? is it for your user or is it “secret library business”?

Let’s focus less on the back room of librarianship and spend more time connecting with our communities.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • keep reading new acquisitions!
  • encourage student librarians to read new stock and report back / review
  • update policy and procedures manual – ensure all processes are streamlined and necessary


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.


Close reading V: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter five: Reader-centred promotions

Displays used to take up an inordinate amount of my time: thinking about them, resourcing them and then, finally, putting them all together. And then I watched this video and read this book. Putting the reader back at the centre of things sure makes putting displays together easier!

It’s not rocket science, but sometimes it is good to be reminded about what matters in a display – and what does not.

  • Offer manageable choices – tempt readers with a few titles (I’ve been averaging somewhere between 6 and 10), then users are not overwhelmed with choice.
  • Keep displays stocked up – keep a stack of suitable books nearby so that as books are taken others can be quickly put in their place; empty displays are not appealing and revolving book covers keep the display looking fresh.
  • Emphasis should be on the books – stop concentrating on the surrounding props, they’re taking up valuable book space!
  • Displays should be an integral part of the day-to-day routine – whether it’s checking main displays look fresh, turning books face-out on shelves, or planning a new display, by doing a little bit every day things are kept manageable and at the forefront of attention.
  • Look at displays from your users’ point of view – what will they connect too? what will engage them? what do they like? Start building displays from their perspective (eg, don’t tell students reading is good for them, tell them it’s bad for them!).
  • Open up reading choices – create displays that put together different authors, genres and formats. This provides opportunity to surprise and delight your users, and makes it easier to have plenty of books to keep your display fresh.
  • Learn from retail approaches to displays – while libraries don’t have multiple copies of titles, we can learn from bookstore merchandising techniques. Think colour ways (related or contrasting), placement, and simplicity.

Lastly, I think this quote from page 179 is a valuable one to remember – whether you are an expert at creating vibrant displays or not.

The user experience in any library will depend more on the staff who create it than on any other factor.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • work on creating new reader-centred book displays every month
  • create a “bank” of reader-centred display themes


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.

Close reading IV: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter four: Reader-centred stock management

This chapter raised some interesting points for me. The buying plan in my school library is fairly simple: BUY WHAT THE BOYS WILL READ. But there are other points to consider too.

One of the most important ideas to think about from this chapter is the reminder to consider the “invisible” borrowers as well. I have a lot of students who are comfortable telling me what they want me to buy, however, I also need to think about the boys who aren’t demanding and those that don’t even consider themselves readers.

Another significant point is to use “evidence-based stock management”. That is to base decisions on evidence derived from loan and collection data: what is being borrowed? what is not being borrowed? what is worn out? what is in the collection? what is not in the collection? what has big reserve lists?

Reader development is about opening up reading choices and helping people find books they didn’t know existed, not only about managing the most popular titles.

This (page 114) is why it is really important to know the book stock in your collection, and also to keep up with new releases. I know I need to have multiple copies of Muchamore’s perennially popular Cherub series, but I also need to know what other books and authors are similar. This way, when all the Cherub books are out, or a student has read the whole series, I can point them to other books that may keep them reading.

Does a library service have a responsibility to meet needs as well as wants? But who determines what those needs are?

These questions (page 132) are easier to answer in a school library because we are not solely focused on recreational reading, we are also concerned with the curriculum. These “needs” are mostly determined by teaching staff, so it is important to keep in regular contact with these stakeholders as well.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • update collection management policy and buying plans
  • survey reluctant and non-readers to see if their wants and needs are being met


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.

Close reading III: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter three: Reader-friendly environments

This chapter outlines library environments and how we might think we are making them reader-friendly while we are in fact doing the opposite. This chapter made me smile to myself a bit – as I think many school libraries fall into the traps discussed. I know I will be looking at my school library with fresh eyes tomorrow!

On entering any new space, 80% of the impression we carry thereafter is based on what we see immediately. In the case of libraries, the view is often dominated by security barriers and the main counter, after which there is no real focus, just rows of similar looking shelves, crammed into the space.

After reading this (page 83) I thought the authors must have visited my library without me knowing! This is just about a perfect description of it. While in the short term there is not a lot I can do about security gates and fixed shelving, there are some things I can alter at little or not cost. It also provides a lot of food for thought for our future library rebuild.

Negative notices are part of a policed environment. They set up a relationship of censure and anticipate bad behaviour before its occurred.

This (page 94) is one of my pet peeves about school libraries – they are places of “NO”. I removed most of these notices when I started in my library but a couple have remained – and it is totally for the purpose the authors’ identified (so I can point to it and say “See?”). I’m going to remove them first thing tomorrow. The signs are to remind students there is no eating, but as they are not supposed to eat in any of the school buildings they are really surplus to requirement.

Public libraries have a tendency to undersign globally and oversign locally…[there is a] real lack of directional signs – Fiction, Internet, Children -…[until] they get to the shelves [where] they will find that individual books can have as many as three or four different labels on the spine.

I chuckled at this (page 98). I’ll admit that our library has terrible global signage but I ditched genre labels a few years ago – pretty much when everyone else was ramping them up as they genrefied their collections. And at the beginning of this term, inspired by Miriam Tuohy (and a Rachel van Riel video), I ditched call number labels on our fiction stock.

As the authors point out, the labels are usually there for library staff but they are justified as being there to help readers. Surely being able to see the title and author clearly on the spine helps the readers more? Another objection to the genre labels is that often the designs don’t look that good and can be confusing (do students even know what a deerstalker hat is? Or what the castle signifies?). The authors have a great suggestion if you really must have a category label to help staff – put it somewhere discreet, like inside the book.

Most customers don’t want to understand the systems, they just want to find their type of book easily…Wanting customers to understand can be about self-justification rather than empowerment.

These statements (page 102) are more clear cut for public libraries, but the lines are a bit more blurry for those of us working in school libraries – we are in the business of education too. However, I think we do need to question our motives about why we continue to do things at times. Stubbornly sticking to Dewey at primary level because “they need to know how to use it in secondary” could be counterproductive. As long as students can see there is a system for organising books, and have the confidence to explore it, search it or ask for help, do whatever works for your community of users.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • Gather data for missing books to ascertain whether security gates are worth the cost
  • Remove extraneous signage and spine labels
  • Investigate smaller issues counter at low / no cost


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.

Write That Essay: professional development day


Image: “Power of Words” by Antonio Litterio, shared on Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons licence

Today was a teacher only day at my school. Dr Ian Hunter was running a school-wide essay writing workshop, held in the library. Given that “teacher only” actually means “all staff” and the workshop was held in my work space and it was literacy-focused I thought I should attend. Because, duh, I couldn’t do anything noisy (like covering books), the library is all about student literacy and, well, some people actually like learning.

Here are some of the notes I took.

We need to model better writing.

Five types of sentences:

  1. Very short sentences (five words or less)
    • use in the middle of paragraphs – gets attention, OR
    • use at the end of a paragraph – emphatic
    • don’t overuse it!
  2. W-start: with, while, when / where as / where, who, what (progression of Ws)
    • they are the foundation sentence of analytical writing
    • holds attention to tell more significant thing
  3. Adverb (-ly words)
    • importantly, significantly etc
    • however, yet, now, often, moreover
    • adverb, comma, rest of sentence
    • introduces interest and intrigue
  4. Em-dash (long hyphen)
    • drop in phrase completely separate from the rest of the sentence for impact
  5. Explore the subject of sentence

Teach sentences in RHYTHM and STYLE – not parts of speech



Who’s the most important person on the page? The reader.


  • clarity means the reader follows every word and gets it.
  • author examples: Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, C S Lewis, Hemingway
  • see The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis (available at Napier Libraries)

Barriers to exam essay writing:

  • writing speed / output (successful Level 3 and scholarship students are writing 160 words every 10 minutes – students need to know this, and they need to practise writing fast)
    • Level 2 = 140 words / 10 minutes
    • Level 1 = 100-120 words / 10 minutes
  • essay planning
    • mind maps are great for generative thinking – not for creating logical judgement and structure
    • list ideas in one or two words
    • choose your best three ideas
    • decide a logical order to present your ideas – start with your best idea ⇒ what logically comes next?
  • how students are taught to manage time
    • 10 minutes planning / 45 minutes writing / 10 minutes reading – this is not enough time writing!
    • instead: 2 minutes planning / 55 minutes writing / 2 minutes rest
  • legibility
    • while this may not be such as issue at NCEA level, at tertiary level if your handwriting cannot be read it will not be marked
    • help students now to write fast and legibly – practise, practise, practise


(Boys like rules, it is a structure imposed upon them, removes not knowing and increases confidence)

  • no essay longer than 1000 words. Ever.
  • no report longer than 1500 words
  • make six paragraph essays mandatory (where the fifth paragraph is a discussion paragraph → most important idea and why)
  • no conclusions shorter than 100 words


(not to repeat what you’ve already said!)

  1. RESTATE the argument.
  2. Tell how you PROVED it.
    • most significant point and why
    • new insight (not new evidence)
    • personal reflection
    • two things we learn from this
    • two things to bear in mind for the future
  4. POWER sentence – 12 words or less.


  • avoid three things approach (ie, Firstly, secondly, thirdly etc)
  • avoid detective approach (ie, suggests a big reveal, doesn’t reveal position)
  • if you ask a question in your introduction – answer it straight away

An introduction in four sentences:

  1. A neutral sentence.
  2. Write a context sentence.
  3. State your argument.
  4. Sum up.

ESSAY = the defense of a thesis statement (ie, what you say in your introduction!)

In order for students to demonstrate UNDERSTANDING and ANALYSIS, the questions you ask must FORCE A CHOICE.

Dr Hunter was a charismatic presenter. He kept 70+ staff (of varying degrees of receptiveness) engaged throughout most of the day. He came across as confident and knowledgeable, and was able to answer any questions that challenged what he said. However, he did say a couple of controversial things. And that’s all good if they’re true. But I don’t know whether they are or not as they were not offered with any evidence. Dr Hunter may have data that we are unaware of, this was not shared with us. Instead what was offered was anecdotal evidence and that just didn’t sit right with me. So I will investigate the controversial things.

Overall, this was an interesting and informative day. And I learned some stuff I wish I knew in high school!

Close reading II: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter two: Finding out what readers want

This chapter outlines how public libraries can gather statistics and information about and from their users. Again, school libraries have a bit of an advantage as we can gather a lot of information from our Learning Management Systems and the age range of our users is quite specific. However, I think it is important to remember not to make assumptions about our students’ preferences and how they use the library. We can still gather information that will help us improve programmes, stock, and library organisation.

The image of the library is as much a barrier as the reality.

There is so much truth in this statement (page 54). One of my biggest frustrations is how our library is perceived by some students and staff. Throw away comments about libraries as quiet spaces, being only about books, and perhaps not being required in our changing educational landscape reveal to me that many people do not see the library as it is now. Or worse, lack the imagination to see how the library can contribute to teaching and learning. This is not only my biggest frustration but also my biggest challenge.

Another common discovery is that people are very prejudiced about what they will not read but not so definite about what interests them.

This (page 74) is certainly true of my experience helping teenage boys select reading material! I like the suggestion that staff don’t have to take the expert role and can encourage users to recommend books. I know I have found this helpful when a student has asked for a recommendation and a classmate overhears and suggests books they’ve enjoyed. The students almost always take what their classmates suggest over what I offer them. I need to encourage more of this peer discussion around reading.

I like the authors’ suggestion to tempt users to overcome their prejudices rather than preach to them. Instead of making a “worthy” display about diversity in literature include diverse books in displays with other themes, such as “Books we love” or “Bite sized books”. This way reading choices are being opened up and barriers are being broken down. Someone who might swear they would never read chick-lit / fantasy / gay fiction could quite happily pick up a brief one of these if they were displayed with other short books (aka Bite sized).

How do you choose what to read next?

This is a simple question (page 75) that can provide library staff with a great deal of information. The answers to this question reveal barriers and provide a greater awareness of issues such as displays, stock arrangement, signage and library organisation.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • Change the way the library is perceived
  • Encourage peer discussion about books and reading
  • Survey students about how they choose what to read next: include regular library users as well as non-users, keen readers and reluctant readers


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.