Reader Development or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Proust

A BCR colleague, Laura Olson, recently told me about the concept of Reader Development, which originally started in the UK.  Laura and her fellow library school students are really excited by this holistic approach.   

I took a look at the website of the woman who came up with this idea and was intrigued.  Reader’s advisory is great, but it’s mainly about helping people continue reading the same types of books they are already familiar with, though interest in a specific subject can introduce them to new genres. 

I’m very guilty of sticking with my favorite authors (as a kid I often reread favorite books three or four times).  Though JCPL’s Personalized Reading Recommendations have introduced me to some new writers, now that I no longer work in a public library, I don’t hear about books I’d never even consider reading (I particularly miss one former colleague who got me to read political titles I’d normally eschew like Don’t Think of an Elephant).  I used to try lots of new stuff on cassette while commuting as the passive listening approach made it easier to give new authors a chance.  But books on cassette are quickly being weeded from my library and I don’t like books on CD (I can never find my place again) and have been learning Spanish in my car, and feel stuck in a reading rut.

So I could really relate to this explanation –

“Most of us protect ourselves as readers and always go for our own tried and tested favourites which we are confident will deliver the hit we’re looking for.  We’ve all had the experience of coming across something by chance, quite different from our usual kind of read, and being surprised to discover we really enjoy it.  Even though we may have experienced this occasionally it is still very difficult to actively go seeking those surprise hits.”

 and to this sentiment –

“…if you feel baffled or infuriated by a book, you keep wondering whether anyone else had the same reaction or if something’s wrong with you.
Reader development is about creating opportunities to do this  – sometimes face-to-face in reading groups, sometimes on slips of paper inside a book passed from reader to reader, or on readers’ noticeboards.  Reader to reader communication is the most powerful form of promotion there is.  If another reader tells you a book is good, that’s much more likely to persuade you to read it than rave reviews, media hype or literary prizes.”

I know after reading The Da Vinci Code I went straight to a religion expert to find out what was true and what was made up, and my sister and I were just discussing what was really supposed to be the “truth” in The Life of Pi.  BTW, I also love the idea of slips of paper inside a book  telling people what you thought about it – of course patron generated reviews attached to books in your catalog is a more modern way of doing this.

Since I prefer humorous stuff like Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal to Sartre or Joyce, “…poor reading experience with a book that has been accepted as brilliant.” really struck a chord with me too.

So take a look at the website and let me know if any of you are doing this or have heard from others who have.  I’d love to get some feedback on how it’s working/what you think…

Don’t you just love how MLS students always see things with fresh eyes and bring you wonderful new ideas?

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