Close reading II: The reader-friendly library service

Open book

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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.

2 thoughts on “Close reading II: The reader-friendly library service

  1. Students talking to students about their book choices (or chosen class texts) seems like a good idea. I remember Y12 students entering the classroom and after glancing at the whiteboard notes saying ‘I remember Hatchet! That’s a good book.’ It’s always nice to know which books ‘stay’ with someone. Since our schools are arranged by year groups, when do students truly get the chance to ‘talk up’ a book to younger readers or older ones? Reading doesn’t have this barrier but it exists in the ‘fake’ world of school life. Do such conversations occur naturally and/or often?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Certainly not at our school, Karen! One of my best library moments so far was when I had a couple of year 9s sent from class to get a new book to read. One of them was recommending a book to the other, the second student looked quite skeptical and said, “It’s a really thick book.” A year 13 (a prefect in his number ones, no less) who was in the library for his study period looked over at them and said, “Yeah, it’s worth it though. It’s a really good read.” Needless to say, the year 9 took the book out. No adult intervention required!
    Would be great to see this happening organically and more often. Though I’d be stoked too if junior tutor teachers got their prefects to talk to their classes about books they’d read that stuck with them. Or if just five assembly-minutes a week was given over to a staff member or Year 13 to talk about a favourite book. *sigh* I don’t expect much!


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