Rachel Van Riel on promoting books and reading

| Author: Rachel Randall | Post a comment

Rachel van Riel believes in the power of school and public libraries to engage readers and get books to move. But to do so, we need to borrow a few basic concepts and strategies from our cousin, the 'Bookstore'.

I am personally excited to see Rachel Van Riel in the flesh, who will be a keynote speaker at the SLANZA 2017 Conference. Seeing that the conference theme is 'Fiery Futures – Igniting and inspiring libraries', have made a great choice, especially if Rachel’s videos on YouTube, representing her company Opening the Book, are anything to go by.

Selling the sizzle (not just the sausage)

As reading is seen by many as a private activity, it doesn’t get a lot of coverage. Libraries can combat this by:

  • challenging and out-of-the-box displays, such as 'naughty books' 'banned books', 'books we didn’t like' (people should be allowed not to like a specific book)
  • facilitating reader-to-reader interactions using the returns trolley, involving readers in your marketing and promotions material and displays — 'celebrate the human beings who use your library'
  • involving current trends and interests outside the library into programs and displays
  • creating spontaneous, memorable moments during the reading, which you can do by leaving slips inside books in particular areas where each reader can collectively jot down their thoughts  
  • less is more when it comes to your library layout plan — smart furniture, '70%' capacity shelves too full, and it can look cluttered and gives off the impression that no one is borrowing. Too empty and options look limited.


Recognise your power as a librarian to influence the book choices your library patrons make, by the books you place in front of them. Rachel’s tips:

  • Touchable furniture and touchable books — 50% of people in a bookshop buy the first thing they touch.
  • People start browsing from 5 metres away so with shelving and display furniture, consider your angles and heights — people don’t want to have to turn too much or change from the path they are making across the floor.
  • Always keep your displays well-stocked — the worst thing is an empty display. There should be more book than blank shelf on show. 'Don’t show your underwear'. In a bookstore, an empty display means 'someone is going to be sacked'.
  • Less is more — do one good display over five mediocre ones.
  • Observe your community and use conversations with library users, everyday situations to create innovative displays, such as 'books about people more miserable than me'.

A targeted marketing approach

Rachel makes the tactful point that libraries have always marketed themselves as being for everyone. And, while this ethos is true, a targeted strategy and focused approach is stronger.

Some key questions to consider:

  • Which market are you after?
  • Who makes the final ‘purchasing decision’? So, which market is this reading program or display trying to capture?

Rachel’s tips for segmenting your market:

  • age group
  • length of time spent in the library
  • behaviour in the library space
  • inside the library versus outreach

At the end of the day, in order to segment your market, you need to know your whole market well, and be proud of your role in creating readers.

Lastly... every 'difficulty' is an opportunity

Rachel is a big fan of using the 'pain points' of your library to identify what your newest strategy and program should be. All four of Rachel’s videos have relateable (and comical) examples: the unnecessary pressures of getting people in for enforced author talks, as well as some fabulous examples of outreach programs that work.

Further information

Reading promotion

Reader-friendly environments

Using learner voices to inform library services

Terry Kendrick on strategic marketing in libraries – great advice


Rachel Van Riel 1: Putting readers first (BESÖK)

Rachel Van Riel 3: Differentiating audiences — how to target promotions successfully (BESÖK)

Rachel Van Riel 4: Reader-friendly book display

Image: SOLD! by Matt Lodi on Flickr