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The reader-centred professional
Five modules of wide-ranging, strategic work which introduce, develop and embed customer-centred practice in the library workplace. Modules cover audience development, animating collections, observation research, managing spaces and working partnerships. Each module is packed with theory, evidence, example projects, staff training sessions and experiments to test out in a library.
The course is suitable for professionals who manage many branches across a system and for solo professionals in small libraries – the work can be scaled to the role. The experience builds skills and creates an evidence-based portfolio which can be used in performance reviews or job applications.
Learners develop a close relationship with their Opening the Book mentor who supports and stretches every step of the way. Mentor and learner decide together how to apply the course content to a specific workplace situation and agree the course assignments so they are of real benefit to the individual’s library service and not just a theoretical exercise.
Contents: The reader-centred professional
Module One: Audience Development
You will consider the library’s role in increasing enjoyment and opening up reading choices for individuals and look at how you can claim an active contribution to the wider cultural landscape. As well as good ideas to try out and adapt, you will practice different ways of breaking your library audience into segments so you can go deeper into the needs of specific readers. There’s also a great resource to approach readers’ advisory work in a different way from the traditional interview about what the patron has read and liked before. Tools are provided to gather your own evidence to convince senior managers about the impact of this approach and you will also be equipped with tried-and-tested short training sessions to empower staff with confidence to venture into new territory. A simple theoretical model will help you articulate the power of the reader-centred approach to external funders. You will find ideas for celebrating readers and creating reader-centred events plus a process for thinking through the practicalities. Working with your mentor, you will plan and run an event which takes you from service provider to audience developer.
Module Two: Animating Collections
Understanding the purpose and techniques of everyday merchandising is essential to the contemporary library. How can we present the books so that visitors find them easily and enjoy the experience of choosing? We can learn a lot from retail experts but we also need to think about the unique role of libraries and how we differ from commercial stores. Awareness of what motivates readers to make a choice is key to making displays more than just decorative; instead they can become a powerful tool for showcasing the riches of your collection. Practical sessions give ideas for promoting older books as well as new ones, ebooks as well as print. Plus there are tools to enable you to make quick spot checks on the range of your collection. You will find help in planning an annual strategy for promotion to animate your collection. How will you balance traditional activities with new ones? Which audience groups will you prioritise? You may need to plan in equipment purchase or commissioning graphic materials – get this right and you can use elements over and over again. The final section looks at how to evaluate and present the impact of your work as the best route to keeping it going.
Module Three: Observation Research
To improve the library experience for all your visitors, you need objective evidence about how different groups of patrons actually use and experience the space. Observing and recording patron behaviours is a powerful way to gather this evidence. Here you will learn about observation methods, sample sizes and what sorts of questions observation research can answer. The module includes a range of example observation case studies - what each one set out to observe, what each recorded and how that information was used to improve the service. The examples here are tried and tested and can expand to gather research on a larger scale to inform major changes in your library's future. Observation research is only as good as the observers are – there are tips for observers and a training session to introduce staff and volunteers to the approach. Your mentor will support you through choosing the practical methods and tools to answer key questions about how your library is currently used. You can plan and carry out research to answer those questions as well as measure the impact of the changes you make as a result of your discoveries. Having firm evidence of customer behaviour will give your library a stronger voice in a whole range of future planning decisions.
Module Four: Managing Spaces
What are the factors that shape the physical experience of the library and how can you influence them to offer a better experience to your customers? Walking through the library to see the space objectively can be a very valuable exercise. Walking through with customers and looking through their eyes is even better – and that forms the first assignment in this module. Connect what you see with the examples of changing specific areas which follow and you will find yourself with the beginnings of a transformation plan. The module also looks at analysing the messages given by the library’s website from a customer’s point of view and showcases examples of building the library’s profile through social media. How to get support for changes to physical or digital spaces is crucial – you will look at persuading managers, getting influential customers on board and enthusing frontline staff. Most of the module looks at how to work within your current resources but at the end there is a section for anyone planning - or dreaming about - a bigger refurbishment or new library.
Module Five: Working Partnerships
Working with other organisations can help the library service benefit readers who don’t visit and deliver shared outcomes to target groups in creative and efficient ways. This module will help you to understand the strengths the library can bring and how to make partnerships effective. Case studies will stimulate your thinking about the potential partnerships that you could initiate and explore just a few of the different ways of working outside the building and online. There are examples of partnering with workplaces, community groups, local businesses, health providers and local media as well as the more usual arts, museums, and colleges. There is a completely new way to experiment with partnerships with online communities. For your assignment in this module you will run a small-scale pilot partnership project as a learning experiment. This section will help you to focus in on the idea you want to test and to plan the practical aspects. Finally, you will consider how to build on what you have learned from your pilot project and look at how to take it bigger.
Learning outcomes: The reader-centred professional
Module One: Audience Development
- Understand the fundamental aims of a reader-centred approach to library work
- Consider readers as active participants in an arts audience
- Examine the unique importance of the role of libraries in opening up choice for readers
- Be able to articulate the role of a library in developing the reading audience
- Consider different attitudes to reading and barriers to choice
- Understand ways to target and differentiate reading audiences
- Understand how targeting contributes to equal access
- Consider practical projects that engage with diverse reading audiences
- Use short staff training sessions to build staff confidence in talking about books
- Try out small-scale projects to bring readers together in the library and online
- Plan and run a promotional event to make readers visible in the library
Module Two: Animating Collections
- Explore the unique strengths of the library in promoting reading and books
- Understand what motivates readers’ choices
- Contrast traditional and reader-centred approaches to display
- Consider how to use display to keep the library space dynamic and lively
- Identify retail solutions that could be adapted to library spaces
- Sample projects that use themes to widen readers’ choices
- Try out a reader-centred themed promotion
- Use a training session to introduce the techniques of merchandising the bookshelves
- Train staff to use display to deploy range and make older titles work harder
- Try out new tools to measure range in targeted areas of the library collection
- Plan a promotional strategy
Module Three: Observation Research
- Consider current methods of discovering how the library is used
- Learn how observation research techniques can inform customer-centred improvements
- Examine a range of observation research techniques
- Read real world examples and results of different library observation projects
- Use observation to identify who is really using your library, and how the space is working
- Use observation to identify practical ways to improve the library welcome for all visitors
- Plan and try out some small-scale observation projects to learn the skills
- Train staff to use observation techniques and record their findings
- Use observation results to make a specific change and measure the impact
- Consider how to use observation to inform wider changes in the library space
- Plan to use observation research to support customer-centred refurbishments
Module Four: Managing Spaces
- Learn how physical layout influences the way visitors engage with the library
- Consider what makes public spaces user-friendly
- Check out your own library welcome
- Analyse the library digital space online
- Take a look at key areas of display and layout in your library
- Look at a range of elements that make public space comfortable
- Identify and make a customer-centred change in your library space
- Measure the impact of the change you made
- Consider appropriate staff training to support physical changes in the library
- Build your strategy to make change happen
- Gain evidence to ensure that the customer experience drives future refurbishment plans
Module Five: Working Partnerships
- Consider the unique value the library can bring to other organisations and services
- Build confidence to articulate the strengths of the library
- Research the outcomes of a range of previous library partnerships
- Identify suitable partners and fresh ideas for potential partnerships
- Make an exploratory visit to a potential partner organisation or business
- Consider the clients of other organisations as target readerships for the library
- Consider how your library might create online partnerships
- Research and plan a potential new partnership for your library
- Brush up your presentation style
- Try out a small scale project to test out a new partnership as a basis for a larger project
- Collect evidence to gain support and funding for larger partnership projects
The assignments on The reader-centred professional can all be adapted to suit the circumstances of individuals taking the course. The assignment is closely planned with your mentor so it is of real value to both the individual and their library service. Support is given to plan, present, implement and evaluate the work undertaken. Two very different examples show the range and scale of how assignments can be applied and also the quality and the relevance of work undertaken. We are grateful to Caroline Duckworth and Linda Longley for permission to use their work.
I found the mentor feedback hugely useful - someone else looking at what I was doing with an objective eye and giving encouragement and ideas for extending what I'd done. It’s very motivational and hugely enjoyable.
Okay, My library is beautiful. I love coming to work in this space. Beautiful light, large windows with overflowing blooming gardens, the artwork is creative and done by professional artists, everything is comfortable. However, I am noticing a slow decay as I walk around all this beauty. People hang signs that don't come down, or are not updated. There are old pieces of kids art, stickers, small bits of trash just around. Our pencil cups are dirty and filled with broken pencils, and our computer tables have wires running everywhere. We are now implementing a roving reference model that I hope will solve some of these issues. Without an assignment I would not have noticed these issues.
This was a very interesting observation of my own workspace. I liked the simplicity yet depth of the exercises, the short text for easy online reading, the ready-made spreadsheets. I would recommend this course. I suggest that you will come away thinking differently about seeing your library. Exceeded my expectations.
I’m finding the way the units are set out very logical and I like how some of the techniques I learn in one unit I use in another. I appreciate your help and feedback when I come up against an obstacle.
I want to let you know the course so far is excellent. I enjoy the modules. I feel revved up and informed and inspired working through and applying ideas in our own library. The content is absolutely applicable and relevant and reflects library practice in our contemporary world and into the future. I appreciate all of the work that goes into developing such a course and the incredible passion that drives the motivation and expertise.
I think this sampling of observations I have from this course will be a helpful jumping off point to working with staff and creating change moving forward. It has been a really interesting course and will serve as a good starting point for understanding our customers and improving our services.
I have seen so much benefit from Opening the Book online training, in the Victoria-wide rollout and in my own library service. I continue to use it because it’s the only training I’ve come across that focuses on reader-centred library practice. It is an ideal blend of theory and practical, delivered through a user-friendly online platform. It has also evolved over time, in response to user feedback and needs, making the training as relevant today as it was when I first encountered it.
A lot of library staff I have worked with say it’s the best training they have ever done. They describe the course content as inspiring and even nourishing. It changes their perspective and allows them to look with fresh eyes at their work in engaging readers. For many, it’s a reminder of why they decided to work in libraries in the first place.
This course is about people communicating their reading experiences, yes, but fundamentally it's about people connecting with each other. It is perhaps the most empowering course I have ever done. Do it. It is vital.
I found this course extremely useful. It forced me to look very closely at our library- at what we do and how we do it – and then bring a new perspective to our space and our procedures, really to every aspect of our work here. I guess I was surprised at how far reaching the effects of some of the assignments took us. It definitely stretched me in many ways that I did not anticipate.
The course is fun, and not only that, it will make you better at your job and more to offer your current or next employer. This course is not an obligation or a responsibility...it is an opportunity.
I can’t say enough about the guidance offered to me by my mentor. She was extremely supportive but also critical when I wasn’t directly on the mark of where the training was directing me. She demanded that I meet high standards but made me feel that my work was recognised and appreciated when I pushed myself. Excellent mentorship.
Because of all the emergencies pressing on us every day, it can be hard to take the time to sit down and get started on the training.
But, whenever I do, I remember why I'm here and what my job is really about - it's like opening a big window and feeling a fresh breeze blowing in.