Our research has shown that approximately half of the people coming into a library are looking for a specific title or author. The other half want to browse what's there and see what happens to take their fancy. This gives a 50-50 split in preferred method of choosing.
Half of the people who are looking for something specific can't find it - either because they are looking in the wrong place or because when they get there the book is already out. These people then make a substitution - usually at random and nearby. Although they began as focused choosers, this group have become browsers.
If we add the 50% who start off by browsing to the 25% who end up doing it we reach a staggering conclusion that 75% of the library audience choose by browsing. Interestingly, the retail sector tells a similar story. The Book Industry Study Group in the USA found that unplanned, impulse purchases accounted for 60% of all books sold.
Libraries are mostly designed to meet the needs of the 25% of people who know what they want and can find it - the A-Z shelves, the categories of fiction, the Dewey system, the catalogue. The measure of library professionalism is often how fast can staff find a particular book if asked for it.
Reader development has drawn attention to the neglected majority. What can you offer the 75% to help them browse more effectively?
The literature world concentrates mainly on writing and publishing. This is true of both the commercial sector and the arts funding sector. Opening the Book's unique contribution has been to introduce the concept of intervening at the point of consumption.
Reading is something we do by ourselves in private. There are more readers than there are practitioners of any other art form but because reading is largely an individual and domestic habit, this is often overlooked.
What makes us think that the reader of romances is probably deeply unhappy with no social life?
Reader development takes an inclusive approach to whatever people are reading. We don’t need to make value judgments about the 'quality' of books as we shift the focus to the quality of the reading experience.