Instant Ideas and Collaboration
Our guest post this month is by Mobeena Khan, Stock and Reader Development Librarian at Hertfordshire Libraries. This post is her own views, and does not necessarily represent the views of her employer. If you would like to join this month’s #uklibchat on reading, the agenda is available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1c5EDJd_DBxp8hJZp1aIrbNNTmpoN8ODbAuY6cpE5JV8/edit?pli=1
Reading. When the lovely folk over at #uklibchat asked me to write this blogpost for them, I was so insanely flattered to even be asked that I said yes pretty much right away. Rookie mistake. Because reading? How on earth do I encapsulate reading and what I think and feel about reading in 1000 words. It cannot be done. It just can’t . There’s too much to get excited and passionate and angry and confused about. So, I’ve tried to distil it into reading and libraries and even more so into reading for pleasure.
As most of you know, I’m a public librarian and always have been. We can be quick sometimes, as a profession, to skip over the book part of what we offer. Being under threat, as most public libraries are, we can be incredibly quick to say “We’re not just a building with books, you know!” – and we are indeed, so much more than that. We have free access to computers and the internet, we have services for babies and children and teenagers. We have reading groups and author events and services for housebound users and users whose first language isn’t English. We stretch and stretch and stretch and sometimes, I feel we forget about the books. The books and their magic are part of what draws people in. It’s still the thing that people associate a library with, any library, public, academic, whatever. Sometimes, we forget about the books.
My job title officially, is “Stock and Reader Development Librarian”. I work across fourteen libraries and when I am asked what I do, I say, only half joking, “My job is about getting things onto library shelves and getting people to look at them”. Reading is a big part of who I am, personally and professionally. It always has been. I joined my local library when I was about seven or eight after a class visit there. I rapidly became one of those children who visited the library every week, on a Saturday and took out the maximum number of books I was allowed to take out and started reading one of them on the way home. It’s probably a miracle I am alive today. I’ve no idea how I crossed all those roads. Reading was and is, easy for me. It’s a refuge. Picking up an old book or the new installment of a series is like being with old friends again; as if no time has passed at all. I am incredibly lucky to have a job that makes sure I try and pass that on to other people.
Because, just as I know I am lucky, I know equally, other people are not. Other people find reading hard. Whether that’s because of low literacy levels, English not being their first language, dyslexia or just not being a reader, reading, this beautiful, every day, vital, necessary thing can be really hard for people. Reading for pleasure is something a lot of people don’t understand and cannot access.
One of the many ways we tackle this in my library service is with a project I help run called “The Book Doctor”. We saw the idea being used initially in another authority and expanded it to use in one of our main urban libraries. The idea behind the project was to offer a bespoke service to our users, away from the pressures of the enquiry desk, whereby members of staff could offer an in depth, one on one service to users who were stuck with their reading. We, as staff members would take the time to talk to users about what they have read and what they were looking for. Users would be able to come to a drop in session where they could talk to a member of staff and get ideas and help to tackle whatever the reading problem was – whether that was that the reader had finished a great series and wanted another one, whether they were looking for a specific genre or books set in a specific period or something completely different. We wanted to empower our readers and users to continue or start to gain pleasure in their reading.
My fellow stock and reader development librarians and I devised a training programme that consisted of training regarding print resources, electronic resources and a list of book prizes that we thought would help in answering questions and helping to widen stock knowledge. About six library assistants were picked to participate in the project and for the first eight of the monthly, hour long sessions, they were buddied up with me or my colleagues. We had posters designed and had the sessions advertised on our social media streams and we helped further identify ourselves as a distinct operation by wearing white lab coats. We have “prescription pads” which we use to write down recommendations for our users and anyone who uses the service gets a free request. The sessions have been running since April 2013 and we are now looking to expand the service to other libraries in the county.
This is just one way that we’ve tried to help our users get more out of the library service. We utilised staff skills and expertise to help enable people to get more out of reading, to find other ways into it, other ways through it. I’ve barely touched on some of the other issues around reading such as helping people with learning difficulties or dyslexia access the library, encouraging children to read and fostering a lifelong love of reading through libraries and there are probably a whole host of others that haven’t even occurred to me. But as library staff, we should continue to embrace reading. We should keep promoting it in every form to everyone who walks in through the door. Whether they read themselves or listen to a talking book or have books read to them, reading is a vital part of who we are as people. It strikes right down into the core of who a person is. The right book at the right time can change your life. We should never forget that.