Training volunteers to support reader development

Reading Champion, Stoke-on-Trent Libraries

We know from our research last year that volunteers play a key role in supporting reader development. However, little training was in place to help volunteers to fulfil this role. As a result, SCL joined forces with Leicestershire County Council’s library service to develop a training package specifically designed for and by volunteers.

Library staff in Leicestershire approached some of their community libraries and asked for volunteers to help design the package. The volunteers identified four main areas they felt the training should cover. These were:

  • The customer experience, learning how to see their library through their customers’ eyes to discover ways that this experience could be improved
  • Talking to customers, building volunteers’ confidence in approaching customers to talk about reading and to give them new ideas about how to do this
  • Maintaining good stock, enabling them to make sound decisions about the management and display of stock
  • Promotions, to help generate and share ideas on how to encourage reading such as using displays, quotes and activities.

It also become clear that any package for volunteers needed to be:

  • Adaptable, so that it could be used with a group or by individuals while they were working in the library.
  • In Word, volunteers explained that they all had Word on their library computers and so it was easy for them to read and print the package. This was also a programme they were familiar with and confident using.
  • Jargon free, written in straightforward language that could be easily understood.
  • With pictures, volunteers felt that having images with the text was important.

The library staff took these specifications away and used their experience and knowledge of reader development to create a draft package, which was then reviewed by the volunteers.

We then put the package to the test with volunteers from Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire County Councils. We are nearing the end of the pilot period now and initial feedback has been very positive:

‘I have enjoyed doing the tasks and it has made me look at the library with new eyes. I feel that more of the volunteers could now have a go themselves.’

Working in partnership with volunteers has been key to the development of this package and their input has made a real difference to the training we have produced. We will draft an evaluation report in November and then create a final version which can be shared and hopefully used by volunteers across the public library network.

Huge thanks to everyone that has worked to create, pilot and evaluate the training.

Helen Drakard, SCL Executive Officer

SCL have also commissioned Opening the Book to develop an online training module for library staff to develop skills and confidence in talking to readers. This will be available via the our Learning Pool site so look out for this release towards the end of the year.