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Information Scotland

The Journal of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

ISSN 1743-5471

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October 2008 Volume 6(5)

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

Reader development

Better choice, better readers

Celia Jenkins is a ‘whichbook reader’, and here she describes what this means and why the book choice site is such a good idea in reader development.

I first read about whichbook in an article in CILIP’s Update in September 2007. It was the article’s theme of ‘reader development’ which attracted my attention, and not the prospect of earning GBP 20.00 to review a book!  
Reader development is one area which I am very keen to play a part in, as it is such an integral part of an effective library service. I felt that the article’s invitation to become a whichbook reader provided me with a great opportunity to contribute, especially as I currently do not work in a library. 

Whichbook is a book-choice website, created and managed by Opening the Book , which takes a reader-centred, intuitive approach to suggesting books and poems people may like to read. It recognises that different elements make up a ‘good read’, and so allows you to choose books according to your mood. Visitors to the site are presented with a series of sliding bars where they can choose between extremes, e.g. happy/sad, optimistic/bleak.

In addition, the whichbook approach allows people to choose type of main character, plot, and setting, rather than the more conventional categories of author, publisher, or genre. As a result, the tool may provide unpredictable suggestions, thereby encouraging people to read something they would be likely to enjoy but would not normally choose.

More than 200 library staff have been trained to be whichbook readers and there are currently around 50 active readers. Readers are allocated books to review. In the initial 12 months of being a whichbook reader you have to have reviewed a minimum of six books and you must continue as a reader for at least 12 months or 12 books.

To become a whichbook reader there is a six-step training process. This process includes two face-to-face sessions, held six months apart, where trainee readers and whichbook trainers meet and work together on particular aspects of the reader-centred approach to reviewing books. The first session is on benchmarking, which involves discussing two books (to be read and reviewed beforehand) and reaching a consensus on their ratings. The other is on writing comments and choosing parallels, which involves looking at examples of real comments and discussing what does and does not work, how to edit your comments, and how to write about a book you don’t like.

The rest of the training process is completed online, through email communication between the trainee readers and Opening the Book. For example, trainees send via email their extracts, comments and parallels of each benchmark book for individual evaluation. Trainees are then paired and given another book to read, discuss and review together.

A set of exercises, designed to introduce whichbook readers, gives the whichbook team an idea of your reading preferences and writing style, thereby helping them to develop your skills further. The exercises make you think critically about what you like and don’t like to read, how to convey to others what a book is about in a limited number of words, and even how to write about a book positively when you didn’t actually like the book yourself! 

I am now reading two designated books (all trainees read the same books to benchmark) which I will review and rate by filling in a Data Entry Sheet for each. Both the book data forms and our reviews will be discussed as part of step two, with the ratings then being used as a yardstick for all ratings in future.

Even though I have just started working towards the second step, I already feel that I am benefiting from the training process. Initially, I wondered whether I would be any good at reviewing literature. However, I found the exercises both challenging and enjoyable, and I received some positive feedback. They have also reminded me that the reading experience is more rewarding when you reflect on what you have read.

The development of analytical and written communication skills is another very significant benefit. The reader-centred approach encourages you to be open and honest about your reading experiences, and makes you think about how to convey the essence of a book in a concise, informal way, while recognising that others may find the reading experience different to you. 

There are also great benefits to library services and the communities they serve. Whichbook readers are able to contribute to a great resource used by librarians and users alike, which promotes public libraries and reader development. Other benefits include greater stock awareness (from being allocated different types of books) and, of course, receiving GBP 20.00 per review, which in some cases is paid into a library service fund to go towards further reader development initiatives.

I feel that becoming a whichbook reader is well worth the time and effort involved. The whole process towards ‘going solo’ will be a very rewarding one and one which will continue to benefit myself and others long after. 

For more information on whichbook/if you are interested in becoming a whichbook reader please contact Rachel Van Riel

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Information Scotland Vol. 6(5) October 2008

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Last updated: 16-Jan-2009