Joining up the reading universe

Like the book trade, libraries are in a constant state of change and disruption and this has been a particularly sobering year, with public sector cuts biting horribly hard. There has been a remarkable outburst of public support for libraries – including support from high profile authors such as Alan Bennett and Zadie Smith – and strong local protests. It is worth remembering that these cuts are being made after a period of investment which has seen a revolution in libraries’ work with readers and an explosion of creative engaging activity – reading groups, author events, reading challenges, baby rhyme times, library festivals, and city reads.

So what now? How do we ensure libraries’ work with readers continues to flourish and that they have the chance to keep innovating? With massively cut resources, one way through is to create a new era of collective action – a joined up reading universe with libraries centre stage. A good example of this, and one of The Reading Agency’s proudest achievements, is the flourishing Reading Partners scheme: an established network of 40 publishers, the Publishers Association, Booksellers Association, Waterstones and the entire UK library network.

Reading Partners has evolved into a dynamic force for action and innovation and has changed mindsets. No longer do libraries have to scramble for a place at the table whenever a new cultural initiative or intervention is announced. Publishers have transformed their working practices, hardwiring library audiences into their marketing and publicity strategies, so that the 314.5 million people that visit libraries every year can access the latest publications, book prizes, and reading campaigns. As a charity with a mission to get more people reading more, and an emphasis on social justice, we believe passionately in the mind expanding power of reading, and want to make sure that far more people experience it, which makes the uniquely democratic public library system our key delivery partner.

As we enter the third decade of the reader development movement we aim to build on the power of Reading Partners by getting to grips with the opportunities for reader engagement offered by online platforms and social media. This poses a new challenge, requiring new approaches, new models and new skills that will reshape reading, open up creativity in new and exciting ways.

As part of this strategy, we launched the digital skills sharing project, an initiative developed in partnership with the Publisher’s Association and funded by ACE through their Libraries Development Initiative. The project responds to research showing that only 3% of library services have a digital reading strategy and 64% of library authorities want help with using digital media to develop their reading offer. It brings together six teams of librarians and publishers who, over a period of seven months, will collaborate on reading campaigns which enhance and extend vital reader development work through the use of digital communications platforms and social media.

The best practice case studies and educational resources resulting from the programme will be open to all and, we hope, will provide a framework for libraries to develop digital communications strategies. The launch event consisted of an afternoon of inspiring talks from thought leaders along with showcases from librarians and publishers who are already reaping the benefits of using digital platforms and social media creatively. The project offers positive, practical collaboration for publishers and libraries to build new audiences for reading by adapting and innovating together. The survival of an excellent library service helps build a thriving nation of readers which in turn delivers social change, serves the creative economy and a thriving reading ecosystem.

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