Shifts in Reading and Information


I contributed to a Guardian online chat recently that focused on the question: “What does a library look like in 2013?”

During this live chat Sandy Mahal (programme manager, The Reading Agency) made this point:

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’re in the middle of one of the biggest changes in reading in human history, experiencing a shift similar in magnitude to the move in Greek times from an oral to a literary culture. Our reading brains are changing, the way we share reading experiences is changing, and of course the book itself is changing dramatically. We’re being challenged to think very differently about what the reading experience is – by things like JK Rowling’s online Pottermore world, Profile’s Frankenstein app which uses reader input and non-linear text. Very little of these multi-platform, literary experiments seem to be making their way into libraries’ reader development work, and of course, there’s ebooks too…we need to take a big, bold step to create a future library service that will keep ahead of developments and cater for and inspire a generation of digital natives.”

And I responded with:

“Possibly the problem here is that libraries are still focusing more on the container of the content (the book) and not the content itself. Not only is the way we read changing, the way we access information is changing too – whether that’s a focus on infographics instead of pure statistics; using multimedia (videos; audio, etc) to provide information, etc – it all needs to be considered, not just focusing on information or even story telling as text in a book or on a page.”

My comment was actually answering a question in my own head, as a lead on, rather than in response to Sandy’s comments. I agree the shift is happening, but we also need to be mindful that the shift won’t just happen in how the written word is presented, as libraries aren’t just about the written word. I’m thinking around this idea from a libraries=information perspective, rather than libraries=reading, as a fair percentage of my library use has been informal learning and information finding. The shift will also happen around how information is presented (video, audio, infographics, etc) and how we interact with it.

I just wondered what other people working in libraries and information based roles thought about this?

Thoughts on “Community libraries – Learning from experience” Report


Thoughts on “Community libraries – Learning from experience” Report

I’ve been thinking about this Arts Council England / Local Government Association / Locality report (Community libraries – Learning from experience: guiding principles for local authorities) published earlier this week.

It isn’t really a comment on whether community/volunteer run libraries are a good or bad thing. It’s a guide for creating community/volunteer run libraries within the remit of the Public Libraries Act, statutory duties, and other legal requirements. It gives 10 case studies out of 170 community/volunteer run libraries currently in operation in England. I’m not sure if they’ve been cherry-picked or not, but I suppose if it’s a how-to guide it’s not going to pick those libraries regarded as unsuccessful.

I’ve just pulled out a few statements from the report for comment…

“Our research indicates that community libraries are established out of the determination and passion of local communities and those working in library services to retain what they regard as essential services.”

Could we suggest this passion and determination is caused by the threat of losing the service if volunteers aren’t found? 

“Whilst these are difficult times and some libraries have been closing, it is a mistake to characterise community libraries simply as knee jerk reactions to closure…”

Having followed the news about library budget cuts and closures closely for the past few years I still think many libraries handed over to communities were done as a knee jerk reaction. Some library services would have happily closed them and this is the get-out clause. 

“Every library service in England has trained and skilled professional library staff working at its heart. This is essential. There continues to be a need for paid professional library staff working in every library authority area, and of course professional staff and their representatives need to be fully consulted on any proposed changes to services.”

It’s good to read an acknowledgement about the importance of librarians and skilled library staff within the context of this report, but how about a bit more support for those staff.

“Not every library in a library service needs to look the same, provide exactly the same service as all the others nor have the same kinds of staff on site every day.”

I wonder how this fits in with the calls for a national library service and initiatives led by Arts Council England and Society of Chief Librarians that are aiming to unify library service provision across England?

In conclusion, the report does highlight that it takes effort and money and a wide-range of skills to set up and sustain community/volunteer run libraries, with low-income communities more likely to need more support.

I can’t help reading this report as a green light “Yeah! Go for it” instruction book for local authorities who might not have considered the community/volunteer run library option otherwise.

Publishers and Public Libraries Digital Skills Sharing Event #digiskills


The Reading Agency and Publishers Association held an event recently at Canada Water Library focusing on their Digital Skills Sharing initiative (funded by Arts Council England) which had been running for 10 months. The initiative consisted of six teams of publishers & public library services working together in an attempt to develop libraries digital marketing and communications channels with their readers. Further background details can be found here.

The event included a key-note from technology commentator and journalist Bill Thompson, a run-through of the six projects and a panel discussion in the middle of the project presentations.

Richard Mollett (Chief executive, Publishers Association) introduced the event, explaining how the initiative came about, the Publishers Association and The Reading Agency involvement in it and the projects that would be showcased during the event.

Nicky Morgan (Director of Libraries, Arts Council England) followed this up by speaking about the forthcoming publication of A.C.E. Envisioning the library of the future report in spring 2013 – a follow up to the research and consultation programme of the same name, aimed at developing A.C.E. “long-term vision for public libraries in England.” Nicky Morgan also encouraged libraries to tap into the funding streams available for libraries.


Bill Thompson’s keynote provided an interesting perspective on libraries and the role they play in today’s society. Amongst other things, he suggested that we’re not yet at a digital age and highlighted that even though we are surrounded by digital devices and information in a digital format, the physical is still relevant to us and it is just as important in our everyday lives. He spoke about the great shifts towards screen based consumption & engagement that were happening. With this shift also comes changes in reading habits – the focus on shorter pieces of text; different methods of text communication; bite sized pieces always being updated. He asked in a screen based world which bits of our brain does the internet want to use and can we spare them when we want to use it for deep reading beyond the internet? He suggested that we should be thinking about questions like “What’s the point of reading?”, rather than “How can we get people into libraries?” He also commented that illiteracy is seen as a failure, even though our brains aren’t born literate and literacy isn’t natural to us.

Projects Showcase 1

Gloucestershire Libraries with support from Granta set up a Twitter book club focused on new authors. As well as discussions between book club members they also had Twitter interviews and a Skype event with authors whose books were being read and discussed. They also considered using Facebook and even though a greater number of people use Facebook, Twitter provides a more immediate interaction, which is useful when trying to run live and interactive sessions. They did however note that due to this immediacy Twitter needs more time dedicated to it.

Leeds and Wakefield Libraries with support from Random House were keen to develop their online presences via social media and rather than trying to build numbers of followers, they were aiming to develop the engagement they had with library users. They saw this engagement as a way to develop advocates for projects in library services – advocates will actively promote projects that interest them.

South Tyneside Libraries with support from Pan Macmillan wanted to focus on a teenage reading project & the Big Borough Read. The teenage project was built around a Facebook page setup specifically for the project – once a teenager liked the page they were given a book, read it, review it on the Facebook page, and once they reviewed it they were sent another book. The reviewing aspect wasn’t entirely successful, as some teenagers weren’t keen on posting as themselves (so required some staff intervention). The Big Borough Read also had a dedicated Twitter and Facebook page. This project focused on a single book to be read by as many people in the borough as possible. They found that Twitter was the most successful method of engagement in this instance.

Reader by h.koppdelaney/Flickr

Reader by h.koppdelaney/Flickr

Panel discussion

The panel discussion was chaired by Miranda McKearney (CEO, The Reading Agency) and included Bill Thompson as well as representatives from both the publishing industry and public libraries. Points raised during the discussion (themed “Compelling reader experiences in the library of the future”) included:

  • The library hybrid focused on service delivery via both physical and digital space will continue to be important in the future.
  • Publishers create large amounts of content around writers and it would be of benefit to everyone if they released it for use by the library community.
  • Publishers recognised that libraries are a non-commercial space.
  • Libraries are seen as trustworthy sources of information and we should be emphasizing this when competing with other services.
  • Libraries should take the opportunity to be the Google of our local areas ie the first port of call.
  • We need a UK wide online portal for libraries that can act as a single place for people to go to for their information and library needs.
  • We need a UK wide development body for libraries.
  • Librarians should be involved in the development of online services, not just wait for the next big thing to come along and follow it.

Projects Showcase 2

Kensington & Chelsea Libraries with support from Little Brown set up an online reading group “Text Tribe”. The target audience were users who might not be able to get to the library to join a conventional reading group. They used a WordPress blog, backed up by Twitter, Facebook and publishers channels. As part of this the publisher donated 120 books for those involved in the reading group. Even though WordPress was the main focus for the reading group it didn’t work perfectly for book discussions.

Nottinghamshire Libraries with support from Penguin & Hot Key Books ran a competition to promote a teenage book title, with the winning entries to be created and used on the libraries digital signage screens. This project illustrated how difficult it is to encourage involvement from library users, as they only had 2 entries (8 once they got a school involved). However, the publisher illustrated that it’s not just an issue for libraries, as they have had equally low numbers of responses to their own competitions.

North West Libraries with support from Faber and Faber wanted to reach families who were willing to share their love of reading via digital media. This included using Pinterest for the Reading-Families project. Here families were invited to contribute to reviews etc. It was interesting to note that the families recruited via Facebook were the most active users, possibly because they were already used to having an online presence.

Following on from the presentations and panel discussion Miranda McKearney closed the event, emphasizing that even though this was billed as a wrap-up event a number of the projects would be continuing and the libraries involved were starting to expand on their use of social media and digital reader engagement. The Reading Agency are currently building a resource to continue their support of this theme at and are keen to receive feedback on developing this.

It was an interesting event and (even though my library service already uses social media) it was really useful to hear how libraries with the support of publishers had made use of it to engage with readers in different ways. The projects also helped illustrate the need to think carefully about which social media tools libraries should use for engagement and that there isn’t necessarily a “one tool fits all” scenario. For example, South Tyneside found that Twitter was more engaging for their Big Borough Read project, but Facebook was a better fit for their teenage reading group. Many of the projects echoed earlier comments around the importance of the physical as well as online interaction – it appears as if the face-to-face sessions in these digital projects were just as important as the online engagement with readers. It also seemed to be a great way to build the dialogue between libraries and publishers – helping develop links and understanding between both sectors, enabling each other to support our work and our audiences’ love of reading.

Ideas for National Libraries Day events and activities #NLD13


Here’s a short list of possible ideas for events and activities I collated that could be run on (or in the lead up to) National Libraries Day on Saturday 9th Feb. 2013. Many of them were either taken from or inspired by events listed on the National Libraries Day website. I’m looking at this from a public libraries perspective (including ideas for children and adults), but some ideas could work in other types of libraries too.

Promote the library service (in the library or online via web pages & social media):

  • Run a membership drive in the week leading up to National Library Day – hand out flyers in local community centres, shopping centres, pubs.
  • Coffee & cake morning for library users. Once they are in you can tell them about all the great services you provide – not just services in the physical library, but also outreach, partnership and specialist services.
  • A behind the scenes tour of the library.
  • Tweet or share Facebook updates about behind-the-scenes activities of your library.
  • Showcase online services – ebooks; online reference; catalogue; special promotions.
  • Enter new joiners that week into a prize draw.
  • Produce a history of your library or library service using archive material, or run a local history event focusing on your library.

Ideas encouraging library user participation.

  • Tell us about your favourite book or books, or something great you discovered through the library.
  • Write a story about the library.
  • Lucky dip – get staff to wrap up their favourite book, DVD, CD etc with a note about why it’s their favourite & a review card. Put them into a lucky dip and encourage library users to borrow an item without knowing what they’re getting. Encourage them to write a review of the item afterwards.
  • Tell us your favourite library memory.
  • Draw your favourite book character.
  • Make your own bookmark.
  • Ask library users “What library pledge will you make?”
  • Run a book character fancy dress competition.
  • Design your library of the future.
  • Tell us why you love your library.
  • Other creative activities – book sculptures? Craft events?
  • Run a library treasure hunt – hide clues related to books around your library & the first one to solve the final clue wins a prize.
  • All day read-a-thon: Get staff, authors, or the public involved & read out a passage from their favourite book, or tell a story.
  • Create a library display or scrapbook of the day including library users contributions to the above ideas.
  • Digitize the scrapbook using an online scrapbooking service, or turn it into an e-book and share online.

National Libraries Day logo

Reblogged: Curation Platform Comparison tables – SocialCompare


Curation Platforms | Comparison tables – SocialCompare

This is a really useful list of online content curation services (60 approx). For each service it lists:

  • Resources that can be curated. eg Twitter content, Facebook, RSS feeds, blogs.
  • Whether the curation methods are automated or manual.
  • Whether the content can be edited after it’s curated.
  • Output and export formats. eg RSS, Embed in webpage, API’s
  • Team collaboration functions.
  • Pricing.

I’ve only heard of a few of the services listed –, Storify, Pearltrees, Pinterest, Bundlr and Memolane – but there are plenty of others worth taking a look at.

Read: Emergent digital services in public libraries – a domain study


I’ve just read the following study:

David McMenemy,  (2012) “Emergent digital services in public libraries: a domain study”, New Library World, Vol. 113 Iss: 11/12, pp.507 – 527

It focused on the provision of online services in Scottish public libraries, and a few areas that caught my interest in the study were:

  • How digital services are providing libraries with more opportunities to act as content creators as well as access providers.
  • The importance of the delivery of library services via library websites in a climate of physical library cuts and closures.
  • The structure of library websites, how they were broken down into different topics/subjects, and how inconsistent terminology was used to describe library services.
  • The suggestion that a national body could be used to provide content that was common across many library services, leaving local authorities to focus on local content.
  • The need for public libraries to improve guidance on using externally subscribed services as part of their remit to provide equitable access to information.

If you’re interested in any aspect of providing online services in public libraries I’d recommend reading it.