Stepping Up: top tips for taking workplace reading to the next level

Quick Reads books

Last week, union learning reps (ULRs) from across UNISON gathered to share their experience and generate new ideas in promoting reading in the workplace at our Stepping Up workshop. They came from sectors including local government, healthcare, further education, and police and justice. Some had run the Reading Ahead challenge in their branches; some had set up book swap shelves or reading groups.

Reading Ahead invites people to pick six reads and write a brief reaction. The aim is to make reading easy, enjoyable and familiar – to make it a habit, in fact.

Here are five tips for getting people signed up to Reading Ahead – and then helping them to complete the challenge.

Change your place, change your luck

Many ULRs had worked with a local library to launch their Reading Ahead challenge, and that was effective. But one, who worked¬†in a (hospital) library, took the challenge out of the library and into the hospital canteen. It worked wonders for visibility, and gave the message that reading isn’t just for people who go into libraries.

Make it fun

Reading Ahead is about finding the joy in reading. It’s not some earnest quest for self-improvement. That can come later – if the reader wants it to. Emphasise that the choice is theirs: they can read whatever they like for this challenge.

Make it easy

Short texts count towards Reading Ahead – poems, blog posts, articles in magazines. But the prospect of looking through an anthology of poetry, for example, to find one to read for the challenge, can be daunting for a reader who’s not very confident.

Why not print a poem (seeking the copyright holder’s permission, of course, or choosing one that’s in the public domain) onto a separate sheet? You could laminate it to keep it looking tidy – that way, several readers could use it.

And if people are put off by the idea of keeping a physical reading diary, you could collect reviews on a post on the branch’s Facebook page or via a Twitter hashtag.

Make it rewarding

Reading and reviewing six things can be a big commitment, and many ULRs reported that there was a high drop-off rate. Why not try breaking the challenge down? Introduce a half-way prize… or bronze, silver and gold medals for finishing two, four or six reads… or even every single one! You can still make something special of the celebration for completing the whole challenge.

Make it interesting

Six new Quick Reads titles are published every year. That’s a great place to start, but we shouldn’t stop there. Make sure you have a wide variety of books on offer in case none of the Quick Reads grab your participants’ interest.

After all, nobody says it has to be¬†these six reads. In fact, the Reading Agency puts so much effort into making sure that the selection is wide-ranging that it would be very unusual for one person to like all six of them. So widen the net. Suggest non-fiction (those books of interesting facts often go down well, as do biographies), graphic novels, magazines… Find out what the participant is interested in, and suggest a read to suit. If you’re not sure, ask a librarian!