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.
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 http://readingagency.org.uk/digitalskills 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.