Discover the Reading for Life MSc programme of study which is now open for new applications in Liverpool and London.
‘Well I just love coming. It’s something to look forward to. It makes you think…when I’m here I don’t think of anything else.’ – shared reading group member in Melton Mowbray Library, Leicestershire
Each week our Shared Reading groups are taking place in libraries across the UK, connecting people of all ages and backgrounds with literature and one another. From groups improving health and wellbeing in West London to groups that help stimulate memories and reconnect older people with those closest to them in Wiltshire and the South West, shared reading in library settings is creating a variety of positive impacts for individuals and within local communities.
Researching Reading Groups
Are you a facilitator or a member of a Shared Reading group? A small collective of experienced researchers with backgrounds in education and lifelong learning are currently exploring the part that libraries play in supporting reading groups, including shared reading groups, in the community and in promoting reading for pleasure. Their research will document what is currently happening and highlight best practice in this important area of libraries’ work.
To help, they want to find out more about why people join Shared Reading groups and why they keep coming. If you have a story about your experience of Shared Reading in libraries, please do get in touch.
For more information, please contact Lesley Dee: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are some examples of what’s happening around the country
During shared reading sessions, people may identify with the experiences revealed by characters in literature and find a way of linking it to their own lives – perhaps subconsciously. Over time, and with the help of the support of others in the group and the texts that are read, they may feel confident enough to find their voice on difficult subjects and discover different perspectives within themselves. A is one of our regular group members at Seacombe Library, Wirral:
“A, who attends the group each week, is a keen reader and it’s always a pleasure to share a story with him. Recently we read an extract from Dickens’s Great Expectations that introduces the reader to Miss Havisham and her self-imposed seclusion at Satis House. I asked A what he made of Miss Havisham and why he thought she lived her life in that way. ‘She could be scared’, was his response. I agreed with him and asked why he thought that was the case. ‘Because she’s stuck in the past; she still wears the same clothes and doesn’t want to move on’.
I asked A to imagine he were Pip and standing before Miss Havisham. ‘What advice would you give her?’ I asked. ‘To move forward slowly’. I thought this was a really insightful comment, and perhaps one that mirrors A’s own experience. We ended the group with A asking if he could keep his copy of the extract so he could read it again in his own time. It was with this request that I realised how much the group had meant to him.”
It’s not only our readers who are benefitting from sharing stories in their local library, but also volunteers – over in Leicestershire, our project with Leicestershire Libraries is almost entirely run by volunteers, creating hundreds of reading experiences and lasting friendships across the county, including the weekly group in Oadby Library:
“What was the best thing for me was seeing, possibly for the first time, the real benefit of shared reading. B said she just listened with her eyes closed to me reading which she found very helpful. By the end of the session her colour had literally returned and she forgot herself and, helped by D’s personality and the literature, became animated and laughed. Equally S and D had apparently been reading poems to each other the previous day and D has joined a poetry appreciation group, inspired by reading poetry in our group.”
The Reader’s volunteer-led projects in Barnet, North London were our first outside of our base in Merseyside and since their start in 2011 they’ve gone from strength to strength, engaging local people in the pleasure – and often, the power – that comes from shared reading.
Our Barnet volunteer projects focus on reading with community groups, memory loss groups and within care and day centre settings for people living with dementia and their carers. We’re working with Jewish Care, Altogether Better and Comic Relief to enable volunteers to receive training and ongoing support to lead groups in pairs, sustaining the shared reading experience for those who we already read with and bringing it to many more people.
Our volunteers in Barnet are from all walks of life and backgrounds – some have joined us after long careers in healthcare and related settings, some have previous experience with sharing reading. Others have experienced the impacts great literature has had on people they are close to, or just simply have a passion for reading that they want to pass onto others.
Jennifer began her volunteering journey with us after regularly attending a shared reading group with her grandmother. She took part in training and went onto run her own group at the care home she worked at. Her story shows how choosing to volunteer can make a change not only to the lives of those who read, but to volunteers themselves:
“I left school with very poor qualifications, but by having the experience of facilitating in shared reading I was led to a more formal course of learning and have since been able to enrol in a course for serious readers, the Reading in Practice MA. I never imagined I would be working towards earning a degree in my whole life so that is a big surprise and benefit for me. It gave me the confidence to leave full-time employment and ask to be a fully-fledged volunteer shared reading facilitator in a community group at Burnt Oak Library. This is good as I have read a lot more short stories and now we are reading a novel together.
You don’t have to have an English degree or any qualifications to be a shared reading facilitator. You just have to be willing to learn a new craft, and be available once a week, ongoing. You equally share the responsibility of running the group with another shared reading facilitator. There is also the support of a network of other volunteers who are all on the journey of becoming shared reading facilitators. Even the best are still learning. You don’t even have to know that much about poems or books.
From admittedly not having a scrap of appreciation for poetry and an increasing sense of shame for not reading very much at all, I have developed a love for poetry and a desire to read. I can’t wait each week to listen to people reading. It is such a rare thing. I feel I have definitely gained more confidence in public speaking. I have far better conversational skills and am able to quote poems, which makes me sound like I have been reading poetry all my life! It makes me feel really clever. Everyone involved is warm and friendly and it is such a meaningful thing to do.
Side effects of volunteering for The Reader: One day down the line, you may have to buy a bookshelf. It might make you visit the library (or even apply for a library card!). You may read that book you have been ignoring for ages. You may develop a love of poetry. You can talk to others about books and poems without any snobbery or pretence. You may make friends. You may want to run more groups. You may be really surprised at what reading together can create. You will definitely enjoy it.”
We are now recruiting for more volunteers to join us in Barnet on our Jewish Care, Altogether Better (reading with community groups/community memory loss groups) and Comic Relief (reading with people living with dementia and their carers) projects. Volunteers will be paired to run shared reading groups, with full training and ongoing support from The Reader.
The University of Bristol’s Department of English is now recruiting students on their BA (Hons) degree in English Literature and Community Engagement for 2013/14. This part-time undergraduate course, taught one evening a week, allows students the chance to learn more about the diverse uses of reading in life as well as to share what they are learning directly within the wider community.
The degree is unique; the first in the country to combine the study of a full range of literature with community projects. Students, from a diverse set of age groups, will be given the opportunity to develop a reading project within their local community, in settings which currently include libraries, pubs and community centres. The focus of the course is on utilising reading in a wide variety of places.
Fees are £2,550 per year of the course, an equivalent of £5,100 per full-time year, and are eligible to be waivered. Deadline for applications is Wednesday 7th August 2013.
Applications are still open for the part-time Reading in Practice MA run by the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool. Exploring the role of literature in health and people’s emotional and imaginative lives, it is the first Masters degree of its kind to be concerned with the deeper ways serious literature ‘finds’ people, offering living models and visions of human troubles and human possibilities.
Interested in investigating the role of literature in Bibliotherapy and health? But don’t want to be suffocated by the confinements of a conventional academic course?
Then you might be interested in the M.A. degree course: Reading in Practice, run by the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at The University of Liverpool. The first Masters degree of its kind is preoccupied with the wider and deeper ways in which serious creative literature ‘finds’ people, emotionally and imaginatively, by offering living models and visions of human troubles and human possibilities.
Accompanied by a reading list which includes brilliant works of all kinds, from novels to essays on philosophy, you will be helped to develop the ability to use all literature as a form of personal time-travel and meditation. You will also learn how, in turn, you may re-create this process for others, through the formation of equivalent reading-groups based on The Reader Organisation’s ‘Get Into Reading’ model.
This course is perfect for those who don’t want to have to read loads of secondary criticism but want to use reading to enable them to think their thoughts better and find new ones. A first degree in literature is not required: you just have to be a lively, seriously committed reader!
Here’s what some of the past students have to say about their time on the M.A:
“The course often felt very hard and it should continue to do so. I feel bereft having finished, and wish I could do it over again”
“It’s such a personal course, where you have to bring so much of yourself”
“I feel that through my reading and writing on the MA I have consolidated some of the thoughts and feelings that have been floating in my head for years, finding the words to understand them.”
If any of this sounds interesting and you would like to find out a little more about the course details, the application process and who to contact, please read the M.A. document below, in which you will find out more, or visit the CRILS page of the University of Liverpool website.
From Kate McDonnell, Quality Practice Manager
Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more “literary” you are. That’s my definition anyway. Telling detail. – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
That’s one (wonderful!) way of looking at Quality: on a sunny Saturday in April, The Reader Organisation’s first Shared Reading Practitioner Day was full of them, and one of the most inspiring features of the day was the feeling of movement, of looking in at the same thing from different angles, of being challenged to keep thinking, to dig down into the detail.
The day marked The Reader Organisation’s new determination to explore what Quality in Shared Reading Practice means and to go on to produce a humanly useful Quality Framework – a living and lively system which won’t be a corset or suit of armour – constricting on the inside or the outside – but a support and inspiration for continuous growth.
The potential impact of shared reading on our public services, of how we live our lives and connect with one another, is enormous. Revolutionary. The significance of this intention begins with us, taking ourselves and our practice seriously; to have this Good Thing we are doing acknowledged as Great. In the opening to the day, as new Quality Practice Manager at The Reader Organisation, I introduced the notion of quality and what it means to us in the practice of shared reading; how the quality of what we are doing in real terms can take time to show its effects, but sometimes can seem to come out of Nowhere, a notion expressed in the poem that opened the day, ‘Spring is like a perhaps hand’ by e.e. cummings.
Most of the day’s workshops used literature itself to focus on values, qualities and ways of being which may be of help as we run shared reading groups. In my session, for example, entitled ‘Care’, we looked at a chapter from War and Peace in which a rough and ready peasant soldier uses kindly small talk and ‘telling a story’ to bring someone who has been traumatised after witnessing an execution back into communication with his fellow-man, whilst one of our most experienced project workers, Clare Ellis, ran a session on ‘Patience’, using extracts from George Eliot’s Silas Marner. I find this sentence she picked out particularly illuminating in relation to Quality:
‘Our consciousness rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us: there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the smallest sign of the bud.’
I love the fact that this gives us permission to take time, and that whether we’re ready to register it or not on the surface, if we’re nourished, there may be plenty going on beneath which will eventually burst forth. I hope we all felt that our sap had been well and truly circulated! As one facilitator running a shared reading group in a library emailed me after the day: ‘I feel replenished – it was like visiting a well.’
If you were a part of ‘Speaking our own Language’: The Reader Organisation’s first Shared Reading Practitioner Day, you can keep the discussions about quality shared reading going through logging on to the Shared Reading Hub, the resource for shared reading practitioners, at any time.
You can also let us know how the Shared Reading Hub can best support you in your shared reading endeavours by completing a brief online survey – all thoughts and responses welcome.
The Reader Organisation’s first Shared Reading Practitioner Day, ‘Speaking Our Own Language’ is in just over two weeks time, and we’re delighted to announce a new special guest speaker at the event.
Anna Lawrence Pietroni, author of Ruby’s Spoon and patron of The Reader Organisation, will be appearing at Liverpool Hope University’s Creative Campus on Saturday 20th April. As the day marks The Reader Organisation’s commitment to fostering and developing quality in the field of shared reading, Anna, who has previously worked as a prison governor, will be discussing what she believes makes a ‘quality’ relationship between a writer and their readers.
Anna will be joining a bill full of engaging, literary-minded speakers, including Angela Macmillan, Professor Phil Davis and Dr Josie Billington from the Centre of Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool and Brian Nellist MBE.
If you’ve completed Read to Lead, why not come along to refresh your literary thinking and doing, tune into the latest developments in shared reading practice, and meet others from around the country at this unique event?
Tickets can be booked now from our website, via booking form and credit card. If you have any queries about how to book, contact our event adminstrator Sophie Johnson who is happy to help: email@example.com or call 07973 247890
The Reader Organisation is involved in the development of the part-time MA degree in Reading in Practice, working with Professor Philip Davis and Dr Josie Billington in the School of English at the University of Liverpool.
Reading in Practice is a two-year, part-time degree, which encourages students to find their own serious relationship to literature. The course also investigates the ways in which a number of significant writers have thought about reading, creativity, health, wholeness and being alive.
Reader development is a fast-expanding field – in libraries, in social regeneration and educational projects, and in health provision. Innovative non-traditional interventions, such as encouraging personal development through shared group reading, are increasingly sought by many agencies: while this MA is not a professional qualification, it will enhance the career prospects of those working, or wishing to work in the fields outlined above, as well as offering opportunities for personal growth and the acquiring of transferable skills.
I am currently doing this MA, and it’s quite hard to stand back and write about it, whilst still immersed in it (I’m about to embark on my dissertation…) but I can say that it has been the most valuable, creative and challenging, course I have ever done. In fact, it’s far deeper and vital than that: it’s more like a personal journey, guided by some of our greatest literature, into the sphere of human life and potential. The Reading in Practice MA is concerned with, as Phil Davis the course director, says:
the wide and deep ways in which literature ‘finds’ people – the readers and the writers – emotionally and imaginatively by offering living models and visions of human troubles and human possibilities.
Here are a few thoughts from other students on the course about their experience of doing the MA:
‘Reading in Practice’ is the most challenging and rewarding course of study I have ever undertaken. It has taught me, through practical experience, what literature demands from you as a reader and, in turn, what you as a reader can demand from literature, as nourishment for a thinking, feeling, active life.
Being a student on the Reading in Practice MA has been an incredible experience. I started this course after studying English at degree level, and initially felt very daunted by the emphasis that this course placed on your own response to the literature that was being studied – I’d become used to the critic’s opinion or the theory being the information that mattered in an English essay. This is not the case on this course; your own feelings in relation to each text guide your study and thought. At times, this personal journey has felt very challenging, but the serious, deep thinking achieved in relation to some of the finest books ever written is hugely rewarding.
The next enrolment will take place in September 2011. Seminars take place on Thursday evenings, 6-8pm.
You should normally have an undergraduate degree – though not necessarily in English Literature. We wish to attract a wide range of lively and committed readers from diverse educational backgrounds and will consider candidates on an individual basis.
Click here for more information on the MA.
Click here for the application form.
I have always felt that reading is a powerful thing, but the course has helped me think about why that is, and given me the opportunity to explore the connections between literature and life.
Through the work of Professor Philip Davis and Dr Josie Billington in the School of English at the University of Liverpool, The Reader Organisation is involved in the development of this part-time MA degree in Reading in Practice.
The Reading and Practice MA is concerned with the wider and deeper ways in which creative literature ‘finds’ people, emotionally and imaginatively by offering living models and visions of human troubles and human possibilities. The first MA of its kind in the country, it invites open-minded investigation into the role of reading in relation to health – in the broadest sense of that word.
The next enrolment will take place in September 2011. Seminars take place on Thursday evenings, 6-8pm.
Friday 6th February 2009, 2.00 – 5.00pm, Room 1.15, 126 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool
In 2008 the School of English at the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with The Reader Organisation, was awarded funding by the English Subject Centre to deliver a ‘Reading in Practice’ project. The project places undergraduates as reading-group leaders in the Merseyside community, as part of the Get into Reading project. So far, the ‘Reading in Practice’ project has placed students in Get Into Reading groups in settings as diverse as homeless hostels, dementia care homes, mental health day centres and drug rehabilitation units.
We’re looking for new recruits – vibrant, thinking individuals who care about books to take part in this flourishing project – to build on the success of the student volunteer project and take it forward into 2009. This is a wonderful opportunity for students wishing to extend their minds, their reading, their usefulness to the community and the ‘work-related experience’ sections of their CV. Come and hear about it from students who are already devotees!
The conference is likely to appeal most to first or second year students of English or related subjects (Classics, Irish Literature, Latin American Studies, Modern Languages); it may also appeal to medical students interested in reading and health. To guarantee a place at the conference, or for further information, please contact Dr Josie Billington.