Grab an adventure - bags of fun at Norfolk's libraries
Fran Valentine, Library Manager at Downham Market Library, talks about Grab & Go bags, a simple but highly effective way to bring people into the library to discover a new love of reading.
At Norfolk Libraries, we have introduced Grab & Go bags, which contain themed books selected by library staff to suit all ages:
adult bags contain six fiction books
teen bags have four fiction books
junior bags contain six fiction reading books
child bags contain six picture books
Themes include crime, crime lite, contemporary fiction, staff favourites, dystopia, animals, spies, pets, monsters and many more – each library chooses its own. Bags are easily identified by their coloured labels – adult (blue), teen (purple), junior (yellow) and child (red). Bags are issued through the self-service machines for three weeks and customers are welcome to renew any or all of the books and just return the bag to the library. Bags are currently available at Dersingham, Downham Market, Gaywood, Hunstanton, Kings Lynn and North Walsham libraries.
The Grab & Go bag idea
A reading conversation sparked the idea – an older man spoke to staff to say his favourite authors weren’t writing fast enough and he didn’t know what else to choose. Staff made some suggestions and found some new authors for him to try. Two of the team started talking, saying it was a shame we didn’t do story sacks for adults. So – why not have story sacks for adults?
Remembering some time ago that libraries had branded ‘Borrower, Discover, Connect’ bags, the stock team was asked if there were any left that could be used. A logo was created, labels were made and the whole team came up with themes.
Having developed the idea, the team at Downham Market Library launched the bags in January 2017. It started just as adult and junior collections, but we quickly added teen bags and by March 2017 bags for children were also added, due to customer demand.
What customers are saying
Grab & Go Bags encourage customers to borrow more books and read more widely:
"Great idea, really gets me reading books I wouldn’t normally pick up."
"My children both love the surprise of – what’s inside the bag – and as a busy parent the convenience is great. If I drop into the library when the children are at school then I can quickly get a great selection. It’s also introduced my eldest to new authors and types of books that she wouldn’t normally choose."
– Downham Market library customers
The evidence – bucking the trend
In the first few weeks at Downham Market the bags flew out the door. Our original Facebook post reached almost 1,000 hits and we had customers coming straight into the library to ‘get theirs’ having seen them advertised.
Having shared the idea with our colleagues, 50 bags were purchased for each West Norfolk library (Dersingham, Downham Market, Gaywood, Hunstanton and Kings Lynn) so they could offer Grab & Go collections too, and one of our North Norfolk libraries (North Walsham) has also introduced them.
"I wouldn’t have picked any of the books but I loved them all, thank you, I have some new authors now."
"Thank you so much for making the child bags. My son was so upset he wasn’t big enough to get a bag like his sister, we are a happy family now."
– Downham Market library customers
"What a wonderful idea, I wish they did this at my local library"
– visitor using Downham Market library on holiday
Impact and feedback
Although we are only a couple of months in, libraries in west Norfolk have reported excellent feedback about the bags. At Downham Market of the 100+ bags held, less than 20 are on the shelves at any time. Adult fiction issues for Jan 2017 to March 2017 saw a slowing of the rate of decline with a 2.8 per cent reduction compared to the same period in 2016, against a reduction of 8.4 per cent between 2015 and 2016.
Whilst junior fiction issues have risen during this period by 2.1 per cent compared with the previous year.
Grab and Go Bags are still in their early stages but already customers are saying:
"I'm so excited I can’t wait to take one of these when I leave today and get back into reading.’‘
– Kings Lynn Library customer who hasn’t used the library in years
And staff think they’re great too
"Customers think they are a great idea, especially the children’s bags, and the fact that they are in a bag makes it so much easier to share when there is more than one child."
– Kings Lynn library staff
"I think they are a great idea and another way to have reading conversations and book recommendations. People who don’t normally borrow have taken them and people who may only borrow one or two books have been encouraged to borrow more as they are in a bag ready to go. The most popular themes for adults are Crime, Chick Lit and Staff picks, and for children Lego, Star Wars, Princesses and Dragons."
– Library Manager, Hunstanton Library
"It has encouraged people to talk to staff about books when they bring the bags back, as they want to share if they liked them as they know we picked them."
– Library Manager, Kings Lynn Library
A winning idea
A recent blog posted by Norfolk libraries about Grab & Go bags was picked up by Public Libraries News as an idea for libraries across the country to use.
As time goes on, we will be able to identify more long term outcomes but for the moment the strongest evidence comes from the reactions of customers checking out the Grab & Go bags.
From our feedback forms, almost all adults and children completing them say they are encouraged to read more widely, that they will recommend the bags to others and check out more bags themselves.
"There was one book in this selection that was so good I’ve had to order all the writer’s other books too."
We think what makes them work is that just the simplicity of the idea. They are available to everyone and have far-ranging appeal. Whether customers have time to browse or are in a hurry, they can pick up a trusted selection of books and don’t we all like a surprise?
"Can’t wait to get home to see what treasures I’ve got."
– Downham Market Library customer