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Time to read

  • Date: 26 May 2011
  • Area: North
Young man singing in front of a crowd of people

Akala performing at Toxteth Library, July 2010. Credit: courtesy of Jane Mathieson, Time To Read

In this region there has been a longstanding link between the Arts Council and Time To Read, the network of reader development practitioners from North West public library authorities. Time To Read held their most recent meeting at The Hive, our Arts Council office in Manchester.

Time To Read is a unique partnership from across the North West public library network who meet regularly to share their ideas about extending the adult audience for reading. Led by co-ordinator Jane Mathieson, the network of 22 people pools its resources for reading promotions and activities which draw attention to public library reading services.

Over recent years approximately 100 North West-based writers have attended networking days run by Time To Read which enable library staff and writers to know each other better, leading to work opportunities and lasting connections.

Time To Read creates themed promotions which can be tailored for local circumstances. By sharing resources, materials, ideas, contacts and publicity, the network helps local practitioners to add focus and value to local activity. Here & Now (books set in the region), Pure Passion (romantic fiction), and Perfect Places (poetry) are just a few of the Time To Read promotions with wide-ranging genres and themes.

In last year's successful promotion of history, Pages Ago, library staff created in-house displays that paired fiction with non-fiction texts and hosted a rich programme of events for all ages. Nationally acclaimed writers as well as local authors visited the libraries for speaking engagements or to run writing workshops. Historically-themed days brought in artists, musicians, re-enactment societies and other partners to add interest. More than 110 events took place, thanks to National Lottery funding through Arts Council England's Grants for the arts scheme. The commissioned writers encouraged people to try out different kinds of literature, and were given opportunities to promote their own work at the same time. Many new partnerships were established with venues such as historic houses, galleries and museums, which will be used for future promotions.

This year's theme is Reading Places. The Time To Read network is promoting travel writing not only to people who intend to travel but also to the 'armchair' traveller, who through a big digital promotion will hear of books about faraway places. The use of digital will help this library network to reach audiences who may not be regular visitors to library buildings.

Arts Council England recognises that enthusiastic users of public libraries are a significant audience for published literature and live literature events. Book borrowers are also book buyers, and when libraries encourage readers they are supporting the literature work of Arts Council England at the same time. A major way in which libraries engage with readers and encourage discovery of new writing is by supporting reading in groups. This region's public library network supports around 1,000 readers' groups by providing space for meetings, staff to lead groups, information about reading choices and sets of books.

At the end of 2010, Time To Read's survey of 1,000 group members found that 97% of respondents considered their reading group an important part of their lives, 83% said they feel better after attending their group and 90% have met new people by attending a group. While many respondents had been members of their groups for some time, approximately 20% were new, showing that the demand for reading groups continues to expand.

Reading Groups for Everyone is a new website recently launched by The Reading Agency, a national charity which works with public libraries. Intended to be a national 'one-stop shop' for reading groups, the site will encourage dialogue between all of its members. The Time To Read network was able to ensure that libraries from the North West piloted the new site and helped shape its content. The Reading Agency, which has brokered significant partnerships for library services that include publishers and the BBC, has a longstanding association with Time To Read.

Many of the Reading Agency's projects focus on children and young people, so they are outside the scope of Time To Read. However, since some local reader development staff are involved with the projects, the network finds out about the work. My Voice, a national project that reaches out to disadvantaged young people, will be delivered in the North West by libraries in Halton, Lancashire, Oldham, St Helens and Warrington.

Time To Read encourages the use of digital social networks to reach new audiences. Many library authorities have been held back from fully engaging with social networking because of corporate restrictions, whereas Time To Read, through its own freestanding website, has trialled new ways of promoting books and libraries. More information about the use of digital media to develop audiences for reading can be found here.

Ultimately the strength of Time To Read lies in the commitment of its members and the support it receives from local authority service leads. Even in these hard-pressed times members remain loyal, enthusiastic and creative, and the continuation of Time To Read has been secured for the foreseeable future. One Time To Read member commented recently, 'When we are being encouraged by government to co-operate more between authorities, in order to make savings, Time To Read has been a beacon of good practice. The network shows how to make this co-operation, both formal and informal, work across the region. We do this by sharing information and resources, and pooling our ideas.'

Together we are stronger than on our own, and North West libraries remain at the forefront of public library reader developments.

Alison Boyle, Relationship Manager, Literature, Arts Council England said: 'The role of our respected North West libraries in innovative and cost-effective literature development is clearly demonstrated by the Time To Read network. By partnering with organisations that have digital expertise, powerful literature experiences are being shared not only by people in the North West but nationally and internationally too.'

For more information about the network visit the Time To Read website.