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population needing to keep their brains active and wanting more than the traditional housebound service. The innovators are the ones who make it

through tough times and we know from working with libraries what an appetite for innovation and improvement there is. We can do our bit towards helping close the gap between the best and the struggling services. We’ll be focusing on five things, in our own manifesto for change. First, we can work the new, shared

national reading programmes harder. These experimental national reading programmes have taken root. Let’s use their power, work them harder, to make even more of a difference. For example, let’s use the massive Summer Reading Challenge to develop a sharper focus on helping looked-after children enjoy reading, and act as basis for a big increase in library volunteers. Let’s target reluctant boy readers through Chatterbooks. And let’s use – already being used by 70 authorities – to be cannier about capturing a new generation of teenage library-users by relating reading to their online world. We’ll be launching a new Reading Groups for Everyone programme, helping libraries spawn thousands more reading groups, and diversify the model to include very different people – from asylum seekers to families. And we want to expand the deceptively simple Six Book Challenge to improve the literacy levels and confidence of thousands more adult learners. It’s only two years old, but 145 authorities and loads of prisons and workplaces are using it.

Second, we can build new partnerships with publishers, broadcasters and the new media. We’ll be setting up a think tank group to take our partnership work to a new level. Take publishers, for example. We’ll be setting up a joint digital task force to work out how to take reader development online and keep up with the dizzyingly fast-moving trends on ebooks and downloads from iphones. Our partners will connect us to the right people – for example, we are exploring with Sony whether their American model of supplying libraries with free e-readers could be applied here, and with NESTA how we might exploit public interest in online gaming in the interests of spreading reading and literacy.

Our work with publishers is creating well- connected new champions for libraries. Another cross-industry development is a workforce development push on training librarians to host author events. I’m thrilled that publicists from publishing houses will be part of a Reading Agency training team. We’ll also be exploring new ways of working with broadcasters. Third, we need to develop a twenty-first century library workforce. We’ll be doing our bit through skills-sharing work with partners from sectors from health to youth, and we’ll be introducing more strategic training and consultancy support. For instance, we have a new training strand that helps libraries show how their reading work impacts on key local authority indicators.


Fourth, we want to develop user power and author power. We all know that the days of professionals deciding what public services should be like and munificently dishing them up to the public are gone. Future library planning must feature user power. Citizens must have their say! Through reading work we hope to create a new army of author and reader campaigners for libraries. Finally, we will be seeking to develop new thinking. We’ll be focusing on areas of specific social need where reading can help. Health and wellbeing is a crucial one. Following a meeting with libraries and health partners, we’ve decided to work together to develop a clear national offer to the public, bringing together health information, books on prescription and reading groups. We hope

to develop some pilots. The Reading Agency is a passionate supporter of the work public libraries do. We are afraid it will get marginalised in the face of massive public-sector cuts. We hope libraries will tell us how best to help them make a clear and credible offer so that their crucial reading work gets into local authority plans, benefits from new funding streams and penetrates the public consciousness. The nation needs what libraries, and what libraries alone, can do.

Miranda McKearney is Director of the Reading Agency. This article is an edited extract from a speech she gave to the Public Library Authorities conference last month. To find out more go to:

Richard Olivier

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