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The best book in the world …

… is quite simply the one you like best. You can discover it for yourself but we are here to help you find it.

This clear formulation has probably had more impact in changing judgmental thinking than any other principle in reader development. There is no one best book – each reader is the judge of what is best for them. 

This statement instantly empowers readers – you don’t have to worry about what everyone else thinks – friends, reviewers, staff in the library where you borrow your books. Whatever you enjoy, that’s fine.  The snobberies and inverted snobberies around reading, especially in English culture, can all be avoided.  No-one can dismiss your reading as trash. No-one can imply that you are reading a prizewinner just to impress and not because you have a genuine interest.  All those guilts, shames and embarrassments just fall away as irrelevant. 

The second part of the statement is equally important, especially for those who work in audience development.  It is not patronising or judgmental to seek to open up the widest reading choices. How can anyone know what is their best book if they confine themselves always to the same kind of read? Most of us will always have a special place for the family food we grew up with but if we never ate a dish from another cuisine, we would miss out on so many flavours.  Of course, there will be foods – and books – that you hate as well as love – the final verdict is down to each individual.  You can reject as many as you wish but getting the opportunity to try a wide range is part of the special role of the library. It costs nothing – if you don’t like it, just put it back. And you may discover a ‘best book’ you never knew existed. 

As well as a key principle of reader development, this has become a mission statement for the public library. The balance between empowering readers and opening up reading choices is a perfect expression of the special role of the library in audience development.

More Audience Development

Make the reader the star

Instead of modelling a live literature event in a library on the traditional author talk and reading, it is worth taking a different approach. How about shifting the focus away from the author and towards the reader and the experience of reading? 

Differentiating reading audiences
Differentiating reading audiences

In the retail sector, companies know a great deal about their customers and, when planning marketing strategies, they break their market down into very specific segments. This helps them to target their marketing more successfully. In the public sector, where we are committed to offering a quality service across the board, it is harder to adopt the principle of aiming specific services or promotions to specific groups.

How readers choose
How readers choose

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.

Reader to Reader

When we talk of resources we think of books, buildings, staff. But the biggest resource you have is your readers. They are plentiful in number, variety and imagination.

Less is More
Less is more

One of the biggest barriers to finding what you want is the sheer number of choices that exist. If you walk into a library, you see crowded ranks of spine-on books disappearing into infinity. It's a confusing and exhausting prospect for the browser who is not sure what they are looking for.

The sizzle not the sausage
Sell the sizzle not the sausage

Starting with the reader and the experience of reading, rather than the author or the book, is the major change that Opening the Book has introduced into promotion.

Opening up reading choices
Opening up reading choices

Think about all the barriers that we have to overcome every time we pick a new book to read. Is this the kind of book I usually like? Is it too heavy? Too light? Will it bore/scare/offend me? There are many psychological barriers which prevent readers from taking risks with their reading.

Reader-centred approach to quality
A reader-centred approach to quality

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. It is quite possible to have a poor reading experience with a great book - most of us have experienced this at school or later in life. 

Respecting other people's reading experience
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? What makes reading a non-fiction serious book a virtue? What other prejudices have you noticed? What are science fiction readers like? What kind of life do readers of true crime lead? Have you ever heard someone apologise for their reading, 'Oh, I just read rubbish?'

Making the reader visible
Making the reader visible

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. Imagine all the readers of a bestseller brought together in one space as happens with music or sport ....

Putting the reader first
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.

Reader-centred writing

There are lots of different kinds of writing about books – reviews make judgments on quality, synopses summarise what a book is about, plot descriptions often have a cliffhanger sentence as an obvious way to ask someone to read more.