What does it really mean? We unpack some key concepts used in reader-centred work
Activity to meet the needs of existing and potential audiences for the arts, to develop strong relationships between arts organisations and their audiences and to grow the overall audience for the arts. It can include aspects of marketing, programming and education.
This term is more muscular than audience development and recognises that the consumer needs to connect with the artistic product – just watching or walking past isn’t enough. Audience engagement seeks to strengthen and deepen that connection.
Organising space/service offers round the customer and the customer experience rather than the product or service. Opening the Book uses customer-centred as an expanded version of reader-centred to include library visitors who come for the wi-fi, the coffee, local history information, concessionary travel passes, special events and the host of other activities which go on in libraries.
Widely used to describe the experience a customer has from start to finish when they encounter your organisation. Can be applied to the journey through a physical building, a journey through a website or the journey from first impression of your space/service right through to aftercare, logging all the touch points on the way.
Creative reading is used as a phrase to parallel creative writing, claiming an equivalence of creativity for the act of reading.
Opening the Book use this to describe our free flowing shelving and desking layouts where we use curves and angles to pull customers in to explore all the space, always tempting them to discover what’s round the next corner.
Opening the Book uses this term to describe the approach of websites which support browsing and surprise choices rather than searching with known parameters. Discovery is mostly used in the library world to mean a layer which sits on top of the library catalogue and allows integrated searching across different platforms such as the catalogue, ebooks, articles, external databases. A Discovery interface aims to supply a more intuitive experience for users than traditional catalogue searches.
Reader development and reader-centred work assume that people have the ability to read. Tackling literacy issues is a different area of expertise and a different area of funding in the UK although reader development approaches have been successfully used to complement basic skills' teaching. Key organisations such as the National Literacy Trust embrace the wider reader development movement as well as focussing on adult literacy and children learning to read.
Literature development is primarily concerned with supporting and developing creative writing skills, especially among those who do not have access to mainstream publishing houses. Literature development officers or workers (LDOs or LDWs) will often support literature events, small publishing initiatives and literature festivals. At its peak in the UK, there was a network of around 100 LDOs, many on short-term contracts funded by arts funders and local government in partnership. Many LDOs are interested in reader development and will build reader development activities into their programme of work but their primary focus is writer development.
Literature can be promoted in many different ways – readings, workshops, book-signings, radio interviews, newspaper features, tv programmes, websites, prizes, competitions, festivals, bookshop and publisher promotions and many more. All of these are part of the literature infrastructure and all have some interaction with readers and reading. There are mainstream and fringe activities of different kinds, scale and quality. What they have in common is that usually the primary focus is on the writer or the book.
Literature promotion becomes reader development if the activity is promoting literature in a reader-centred way, starting from the viewpoint of the readers and putting the readers first, before the writers or the books. Some festivals, for example, are now including reader-centred activities.
The animateur makes the art form come alive through audience development, outreach and education. Animateur has been used in connection with other arts practice, especially dance, and is occasionally associated with reading.
Because of the confusion between reader development and reading development, Opening the Book decided to use a simpler, shorter term. Reader-centred is a convenient shorthand for putting the reader at the centre not the writer or the book.
Traditional booklists focus on genre collections, authors, literary prizes and ‘who writes like’ lists. Reviews are often plot-based or taken from the back cover blurb or publishers’ synopsis. They are more exclusive in appeal and offer few genuine surprises.
Reader-centred booklists start with the reading experience bringing an eclectic range of fiction, poetry and narrative non-fiction together under intriguing titles such as Journeys, Take a break or Get a Life. Reviews (written by real readers) focus on what the book made them feel and offer other readers genuine ways into an unfamiliar author or a book outside their comfort zone.
The Readers’ day was a new approach to creating large-scale reader-centred events. The first of these days was organised In July 1999 by Bradford Libraries in partnership with Opening the Book. Since then many library services have successfully staged similar one day programmes of workshop-style activities and presentations. Readers’ days usually involve authors but the creative reading focus means that authors contribute as readers and engage in discussions as readers, as well as writers. The creativity of audience is celebrated as the buzz created by enthusiastic readers sharing their experiences becomes the highlight of the day rather than individual contributions by authors. This has proved to be a very successful model – most writers love it as they don’t often get the opportunity to talk about their own reading habits and preferences in public – and readers love it too.
Opening the Book coined the phrase reader development to signal this is about the person not the skill. We defined reader development as active intervention to:
Reader development is something people can choose to do entirely by themselves. The term also came to signify a body of professional practice, especially in public libraries, which encouraged readers to open up their reading choices, share their reading experiences and raise the status of reading as a creative activity.
Artist and writer in residence programmes have existed for many years. An artist is stimulated by working from a specific place – geographically, culturally or institutionally – and the hosts also benefit by watching an artist at work. The world’s first Reader-in-residence was Mary Cutler in 1991 at Birmingham Libraries. Mary ran reading groups, produced some of the best-ever reader-centred reading lists (Why read if you’re ill or waiting to be was a favourite) and offered one-to-one advice to library users who consulted her in drop-in sessions.
A term to describe all the activities which harness the power of readers to promote to each other, face-to-face and online. The returned books trolley, cart or shelf is the original reader-to-reader communication in all libraries. People who have never met are communicating their likes to each other with the underlying subtext ‘if someone else has read it, it must be good.’
The term ‘reading group’ or ‘readers’ group’ became the preferred term for the many groups which were born out of new reader-centred training and activities in public libraries during the late 1990s and early noughties. The decision to go with reading or readers’ group rather than book group was deliberate to place the focus on the people (the readers) and the experience (reading) rather than the product (the book). These reading groups aimed to be inclusive and democratic and very different in structure and content from more formal literature classes or traditional library-based author events.
This shifts the focus from the teachers to the learners. It was previously used to describe teaching in a way which recognises different styles of learning but has become much wider than this and can include student-centred classroom layout, resource organisation, personalised learning, group-led or peer learning and many other innovative approaches. Just as reader-centred is about starting from the reader and putting the needs of readers first, so student-centred learning starts from the student and puts their needs first.