Since beginning to get involved in National Libraries Day last year, at University of Bedfordshire Library we have been looking at finding ways to join in with other national events which would be suitably appropriate and engaging to our students. This year we decided to apply as an institutional giver to hand out free books for World Book Night, and we were lucky enough to receive copies of two titles to distribute.
We decided that this would be part of a wider and more long-term campaign to promote and encourage the health and wellbeing benefits of reading for pleasure. As we stated in our application to hand out books, we spend a lot of time pushing the importance of academic reading – reading around your subject etc. – but given that we as a university are concerned about student wellbeing and ensuring that our students remain happy and healthy throughout their time here, we felt that we should be promoting the ways in which reading for pleasure can help. We therefore decided to also use World Book Night to launch a blog where staff and students can share their recommendations for books to read and their experiences of and feelings on reading in a non-academic sense.
Deciding where to hand the books out was a challenge. The aim of World Book Night is to distribute books to people who do not ordinarily read, so at first we thought we would go to a space outside of the library/LRC, perhaps the Student Union (SU). However, having decided to run our event during the evening, we considered where the students would actually be at 6pm on a Thursday in the run-up to final deadlines and exams, and realised that they would be in the library spaces, so we decided to use these. We felt that we were still likely to catch students who weren’t readers, as their presence in the library indicated only that they were doing academic reading, not necessarily any other kind.
We did not receive as many books as perhaps we had hoped – only two sets of eighteen, meaning nine of each title at each campus where we were giving – due to The Reading Agency wanting to allow as many institutions as possible to give out books. Therefore we decided to run a book swap at the same time.
The event went really well at both campuses. Despite having deadlines looming, the students we encountered gave a positive response, with most of them seeming pleased to be offered a book and engaging with the titles, wanting to know what they were about and which to choose. We didn’t get many book swap donations on the night, but had had a few come in during the days before, so we had plenty of other books to offer too, which the students were keen to browse and pick from. Several said that it would be a welcome distraction from the stress they were under at the moment – a good point at which we could share some statistics on the health benefits of reading for pleasure – while others were looking forward to reading their free book once they were finished with their studies for the year.
We would have liked to have run some events or activities for World Book Night in addition to the giveaway, and did discuss this, but the main problem with this idea is the time of year – our students are too busy with their assignments, dissertations and revision to be able to engage with anything else and so we felt that we would not get sufficient attendance for anything. However, given the positive response to the book hand-out, we felt that our first foray into World Book Night was successful, most particularly in the context of the time of year.
We are continuing to add to our reading blog, and will think about other activities and events that we could run to promote the health and wellbeing benefits of reading for pleasure.