Blog Posts

Finding a good read

Amazon’s customer reviews and suggestions are widely used and can be quite helpful if taken in balance. However, because of the way people often make book purchases, the adjacencies (people who bought this also bought….) don’t always reflect personal reading tastes.

Grown up pop ups

"Mechanical books should look like ordinary books. Their success is to be measured by the ingenuity with which their bookish format conceals unbookish characteristics." - Iona and Peter Opie

Eau de library

Readers often say that they love the scent of old books. "A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness” is how an international team of chemists describes the particular smell of decaying tomes.

Book art and libraries

Libraries are the place where ideas begin. Many of the best ideas, artistic leaps, inventions and breakthroughs have been inspired by the contents of public libraries and yet, like many of the vital contributions that the library makes to the wider community, the effect is unseen so how could that link be made visible?

Pushing the book cart

Library book trolleys - book carts in the US – come in a variety of styles but the majority do one thing but nothing much else. Great for moving a load of books from A to B – they are large, cumbersome and inflexible when not in use.

Big Art

Public art is often commissioned for public libraries. Large library buildings offer the urban space to make a big statement at the entrance or in the foyer. The art has to live up to the expectations of the City – they are very prestigious and very visible.

Images of Reading

Books as props in early studio photography

Posing with a book gives individuals a studious air but photographers also kept books handy as a means steadying the sitter.

Early photographic portraits of reading outdoors

Holding an open book enables an embracing composition of mother and child; the mother can also hold the child steady and prevent wriggling.

Christ child riffles pages

Fifteenth- century paintings by Hans Memling and Jan Van Eyck take religious subjects and use formal compositions but there’s an unexpected touch of realism, typical of the Renaissance.

Ex libris bookplates

Marking all the volumes in your personal library with an Ex libris ownership stamp - from the library of [add your name] - is now a thing of the past.

Audience Development

Putting the reader first

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.

Making the reader visible

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.

Respecting other people's reading experience

What makes us think that the reader of romances is stuck in a dream world, an escapist, probably deeply unhappy with no social life?

Sites we like

Men Who Stare at Books is a welcome invitation into a world of unapologetic man stuff from the guys at Headline Books. Definitely worth dropping in for a rummage.

The strapline – ‘Books and culture for the thinking man’ shouldn’t be taken too seriously as the team has a witty, irreverent take on popular culture. I particularly enjoyed 5 Popstar Children’s Books We’d Like to See (or not) – I laughed aloud at The Very Angry Caterpillar by Morrissey and Alice in Wonderland by Alice Cooper (with a fab if rather disturbing cover image). Jokes aside – these chaps know their onions.

Visit website

I’m a big fan of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and visit when I can – but I live 200 miles away, so it’s not always that easy.

What I love about the Festival website is the way it extends the magic of three blissful weeks of book talk throughout the year and across the globe by sharing author interviews and events through Watch Online and Podcasts. The offer is immediate and very visible on the home page - and the navigation is very straightforward, always a big plus. You can dip in and out or invest serious time in a longer recording – the choice is yours.

Visit website

Mr. Bs Emporium is an independent bookshop in Bath. The website gives a good flavour of why readers love this bookshop. The whole enterprise is a glorious and unashamed celebration of reading and the love of books. The site looks great, too, with quirky graphics and a personal, relaxed approach.

You can find author interviews and eclectic book lists. The website is a good place to pick up ideas for what to read next and the blog is worth following because of the straightforward book reviews. There’s a really good mix of features on bestsellers and new or little known authors. Of course, being Bath, they offer visitors a therapeutic Book Spa.

Visit website

Presentations & website links

Presentations from a wide range of countries and events by Rachel Van Riel of Opening the Book

Click on the links below for reports from a small selection of Rachel’s presentations from around the world.


What does it really mean? We unpack some key concepts used in reader-centred work

Library project archive

In twenty years of reader-centred practice there are many projects which are no longer running but are still worth mining for ideas and inspiration. Explore some of the most successful reader-centred projects in the UK below.

Visually impaired readers have the same difficulties choosing what to read next as everyone else except that their choice is more limited by what’s available. Here’s an example of how to open up reading choices by grouping titles together round reading needs or experience and then writing about them in a tempting way. The project created reader-centred taster compilations in large print, Braille and audio formats to give visually impaired readers a new way to choose what to read. Each compilation brought together an intriguing mix of titles with introductory text and reader comments. The large print booklists stand as a good example of how to approach a reader-centred promotion and how to write about books in a reader-centred way.

Writing about books from the reader’s point of view

A Bookchain can most simply be described as a reading group that doesn’t meet. It is an ideal option for readers who want to share their reading experiences but don’t have the time or inclination for a regular face-to-face group. Readers are grouped together – three or four people per bookchain is typical – and they choose, write about and pass on books to other member of their chain in a process managed by the library staff.


Blind Date was part of a web project called What are you up to? It was run in partnership between East Midland Reader and Development Project (EMRALD) and Opening the Book between 2000 and 2003 and was targeted at readers aged 16-25. An editorial group of one member of staff from each of the nine participating authorities worked with an Opening the Book site manager to plan site content and development. The resulting website was ground breaking in style and content and linked online and offline services.

Blind Date

Give me a break was the first dual language Welsh/English site for readers. It enables readers to choose their books according to the kind of break they are looking for – for example: a break from the kids (rhag y plant) or a break from stress (rhag y bwrlwm). The target audience for this site is readers in their 20s and 30s, taking on board the specific needs of this age group: first job/unemployment; first baby/unattached; experimenting with first experience with extreme sports and travel/bogged down with domesticity and work boredom. The website was complemented by posters and book displays in libraries – connecting online and offline activity.

Give me a break

The Ønskebok website is the largest international project Opening the Book has undertaken.


Opening the Book won the contract to deliver the Read part of the People's Network service.


Opening the Book was contracted by SLIC/CILIPS to deliver a training programme involving all 32 Scottish Library authorities

Scottish Readers

This site for readers aged 11-16 was developed with East Ayrshire Libraries

The Stock Quality Health Check was developed for the Audit Commission, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England.

Stock Quality Health Check

Branching Out was a national reader development project which ran from 1998 to 2006.

Branching Out

A three-year project for readers that unites every library service in Wales

Estyn Allan