Close reading X: The reader-centred library service

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Chapter ten: Reader-centred strategy

There is so much important stuff in this last chapter – stop reading this, get your hands on the book and just read it!

The strands of advocacy and services and procedures are all linked into a strategic plan; yet I wonder how many of us in New Zealand school libraries have actually put any recent thought into a vision or goal for our libraries? Time, resourcing and staffing mean we often lack the opportunity to just sit and think, however, a number of big problems that can arise would be solved if we did. Maybe it’s time we give ourselves permission, or ask it of our principals, to think about the big picture so that we can ensure what we are doing day-to-day is effective and moving us towards our larger goals.

Of course, a school library’s goals should always be linked to those of the school and reflect the community they serve, but they should also have a vision of their own. How do you want the school library to be seen? to be used? to contribute to the school and community? From this thinking, a strategy can then be mapped out. From page 315:

A strategy should articulate why you’re doing what you’re doing, why it matters and how you can get to where you want to be with the least effort and use of resources…A clear strategy will help set priorities for daily work.

A strategic plan will help you advocate for your library and yourself, you will have a clear understanding of what you want your library to achieve and how you are helping to do that. Strategic thinking will allow you to evaluate the services you offer, drop those that aren’t helping you move towards your goals and introduce new ones that will. Day-to-day practices should also be looked at through the lens of your strategic plan – if it’s not getting you where you want to go stop doing it and do something that will. (For example, is your overdue policy helping to grow the love of reading in your school?)

This, from page 353, really highlighted for me why I need to have a plan for what I’m doing:

Wherever you are in the power hierarchy, you will have more effect if you are able to show clearly why what you want to do matters, who it will benefit and how you will make it happen.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • update policies and procedures manuals – include vision / strategic goal
  • survey staff and students about what they want from the library – use this to inform strategic planning
  • collect evidence for why reading matters to act as bedrock for strategy / services / procedures and budget negotiations

Reference:

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

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Close reading IX: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter nine: Evaluating reader-centred work

There is a lot of useful information in this chapter about evaluating programmes in general. Points that particularly resonated are:

  • if something isn’t working, we need to understand why not in order to plan a different course of action
  • be clear from the start who the evaluation is for (users / staff / managers / stakeholders)
  • to learn immediate lessons, evaluate straight away; to evaluate long-term impact, wait six months
  • questionnaires will be filled in by a self-selected group, those who feel strongly and more likely to respond
  • encourage participants to reflect on their own experience for a more useful evaluation (what was most useful? was the content pitched right? is there more you want to learn as a result?)

And perhaps the most important point (from page 309):

Whatever the tools you use, there will be no point to the evaluation unless you summarise what you have learned and plan to take action. Not acting on the results of evaluation is the single biggest cause of the cynicism which an evaluation process often generates.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • summarise the feedback from our last Central region PD day!

Reference:

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

Close reading VIII: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter eight: Readers online

I’ve been slow to get a library website up and running – and after reading this chapter I’m kind of glad! I think I would have fallen into all the online traps that are mentioned here, and probably wouldn’t have put the user-experience at the centre of the website design.

I definitely do want to create an online space for my library users (because I know that a lot of them leave their schoolwork to the last minute – when the library is often closed) but I want it to be a useful space. Not something to impress the senior management team or Board of Trustees, but something that the students will actually use.

Things I will need to think about before creating the library’s online space:

  • organise information so that students can find what they want by a direct route (minimise the number of clicks!)
  • don’t simply reproduce what the library offers offline – what is suitable for a web audience
  • the web thrives on users sharing information they discover – allow space for students to do this
  • think about who needs what online and why – don’t rush into writing web content that nobody will ever visit
  • interactivity is one of the biggest advantages of online spaces – use it

There is a lot of thought that needs to go into online services and these also need to be maintained once they are up and running. Limited staffing and resources are what have slowed me down at this point. Maybe it is time now to start putting aside time to do this and prioritising it the same way that offline services are?

 

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • start designing a library website
  • make a plan to get LMS opened up anytime / anywhere
  • make a plan for catalogued websites to be accessed through the LMS – it’s 2016, people!

Reference:

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

Close reading VII: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter seven: Reading groups

For reasons too inexplicable and frustrating to share here, I am unable to run a reading group in our school library. However, that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about one, or reading enviously about groups that other school librarians are running. It also probably explains why I decided to start my own out-of-school-hours group with other children’s and young people librarians in our local area.

I’m a fan of the type of reading group that is encouraged in this chapter. A group where members read what they want to read and share their thoughts and feelings with others. Nothing prescriptive, snobby or on a theme; and all about the reading experience – no need for deep analysis!

The benefits of reading groups to a library service are outlined in this chapter, and there are many.

  • Reading group members are library advocates.
  • They provide a ready-made audience for consultation.
  • They are an excellent resource for reader-to-reader recommendations and promotions.
  • They can take charge of a ‘reading group choice’ display area.
  • They can take on the role of event hosts.
  • They can help make stock decisions in areas of weakness.

I particularly liked this message from page 220:

Understanding a little about group dynamics, appreciating that people read primarily for pleasure, and are coming because they want to share that pleasure with others, and simply putting the kettle on are more important skills for the reading group facilitator than a degree in literature or, indeed, librarianship!

Another interesting point to note is that some libraries have found that teen groups are more successful if they are “for a limited time”; open-ended groups did not generate the same interest as groups that were run for a set number of weeks. I can see how this would probably be the same in school settings.

Most importantly, remember that a reader-centred approach to reading groups will ensure (page 212)

that everyone in the group will have something to say, confident in the fact that they are the expert in their own reading experience.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • I can still get most of the benefits of reading groups without actually having one
  • consult my known readers more
  • ensure my student librarians are readers – get those suckers to work for me!

Reference:

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

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

Reference:

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

Reference:

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

Reference:

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

Reference:

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

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

Reference:

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

Close reading I: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter one: Starting with the reader

I think school libraries have a bit of an advantage over public libraries when it comes to being reader-centric. After all, our readers are literally in our face every day! However, when it comes to displays I think we do still fall into the same trap of making them about the books rather than the readers. I certainly jotted down a lot of display ideas while reading this chapter!

Reader development means active intervention to:

  • increase people’s confidence and enjoyment of reading
  • open up reading choices
  • offer opportunities for people to share their reading experience
  • raise the status of reading as a creative activity

This (page 14, with my emphasis) should be at the heart of what school libraries do for their readers. One thing I need to especially work on in our school is raising the status of reading. It is invisible and I battle the pervasive myth that “boys aren’t readers”. They are and they do, despite the time available for them to do so becoming increasingly squeezed by schoolwork, extra curricular commitments, paid employment, and digital distractions.

Reader development begins from valuing and respecting individual reading preferences; each reader is expert and judge of their own reading experience.

This quote (page 15) stood out to me because of the attitude I encounter with some of the English teachers at school. I work quite hard not to put my value judgement on the books that students select (because I am a book snob – but at least I know I am so I can work on not showing that to the boys!). However, I am often dismayed at teachers that bring students into the library and list off the number of things they are not allowed to read (newspapers, magazines, non-fiction, graphic novels, picture books, easy reads…). I understand that part of the teachers’ job is to raise literacy levels, but surely one of the best ways to do that is to encourage reading for pleasure! I will definitely be tackling this issue when I put together my literacy manifesto for the principal and head of department.

Reading is a creative partnership with an author, providing a way to embrace different lives, cultures and new experiences as well as supporting us in confronting the things we fear.

It is important to remember this (page 27) particularly when faced with controversial or challenging material. But also when we are endeavouring to open up students’ reading choices and encouraging them to experiment or read outside their comfort zones. Reading is a safe and supportive way to encounter dangerous places and behaviours.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • Raise the status of reading as a creative activity; make it more visible (both for students and staff)
  • Educate teachers about the “and” of selecting books; ie, you must issue a novel and then you can have a book of your choice

Reference:

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