Mark My Words – Universal Music Group and The Reading Agency gift books by Black authors to libraries across the UK

As Black History Month reaches its conclusion, The Reading Agency and Universal Music Group (UMG) are pleased to announce the ‘Mark My Words’ campaign, providing copies of books by Black authors to libraries across the UK. The Reading Agency partnered with UMG through the company’s UK Task Force for Meaningful Change (UKTFMC), which focuses on the unique challenges facing the UK’s Black community.

The titles, including both fiction and non-fiction books for both children and adults, will be donated to local authority hubs across the UK. Selected collaboratively between UMG and The Reading Agency, the collection of engaging and accessible titles has been chosen to appeal to a broad audience of all reading levels.

The ‘Mark My Words’ campaign supports a joint commitment to social justice, championing the role that reading plays in tackling inequality. By gifting the titles directly into public libraries, ‘Mark My Words’ will ensure that the books are freely accessible to those who will benefit from them most. Research on children’s books in the UK shows that published authors and illustrators do not reflect the UK population at large. In 2019, 8.68% of children’s book creators were people of colour, with just 2.86% being British people of colour. 1 Research demonstrates that children’s books can support young people in the exploration of themselves and others, providing recognition for readers who can identify, and insight and understanding for those who don’t. 2 Similarly for adults, studies show that writers of colour are ‘undervalued’ by the publishing industry, affecting the acquisition, promotion, and sales of their books. 3 A survey of writers across the UK found that while 13% of respondents identified as being from a minority ethnic background, only 9% earned more than £30,000 annually for their writing . By gifting these books into libraries UMG and The Reading Agency hope to shine a light on Black authors and their creativity.

The series of gifted books will be announced in November and will include titles from the 2022 Quick Reads series, The Reading Agency’s life-changing programme which tackles the UK’s adult literacy crisis by helping less confident readers get reading.

The titles will be available to borrow in public libraries from early December and will be accompanied by a series of events in libraries across the country with some of the books’ authors. Full details of the events programme will be announced in the coming weeks. The children’s titles will also be supported with free Chatterbooks resources, consisting of activities designed to support children’s development by encouraging them to read and talk about books.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency says:

“We are delighted to be partnering with Universal Music Group on this inspiring campaign. A key objective for The Reading Agency is to ensure the work and impact of The Reading Agency is reflective of the society in which we live and of those we serve. Working together on this campaign offers an exciting opportunity to fulfil some of these objectives and celebrate important books by excellent Black authors.”

Dr. Menna Demessie, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of Universal Music Group’s global Task Force for Meaningful Change says:

“Supporting initiatives like ‘Mark My Words’ is extremely important for us. To be able to help place Black authors’ work into more hands, to help push Black stories into more spaces – it’s so important to this journey of empowerment, empathy, and unity that we are all on as a nation. We thank The Reading Agency for helping us to deliver such a powerful project.”

For all media enquiries, please contact Alexander Turton

1. We Need Diverse Books (2021); Ramdarshan Bold (2020), ‘Representation of people of colour among children’s book authors and illustrators’
2. CLPE (2020) Reflecting Realities
3. Saha and van Lente (2020), Re:Thinking Diversity in Publishing

Reading Friends 2021-22: Reach and Impact

Reading Friends uses reading as a platform to generate conversation, share stories, life experiences and perspectives, in a fun and welcoming environment. This approach ensures that Reading Friends participants and befrienders can not only meet new people, but also create long-lasting connections and, in many cases, friendships.

In 2021 to 2022, Reading Friends made a positive difference to people’s lives using the power of reading – supporting people with their wellbeing, creating meaningful connections, reducing loneliness and engaging more people in reading together for pleasure.

Working together with public libraries, the programme had a strong impact on communities. As a result of taking part in Reading Friends 87% of participants felt more connected to other people and agreed the programme:

  • Added purpose to their week 78%
  • Increased their life satisfaction 75%
  • Helped them feel less lonely 71%
  • Increased their confidence to try new things 70%

In 2021-22, 3,728 people were supported across 72 library authorities to connect 44,054 times.

These connections were made possible through a concerted focus on accessibility, ensuring that as many people as possible were provided with the opportunity to take part in Reading Friends. Public libraries and their partners ran inclusive and mixed-ability sessions for people in their local community, reaching all age groups, as well as audiences who may experience barriers to their reading, accessing resources and social support.

A large proportion of library authorities hosted Reading Friends sessions with older adults (79%), adults (60%), people with mental health conditions (42%), people with disabilities and other support needs (35%), people living with dementia (33%), clinically vulnerable or shielding groups (31%) and many others.

Amid ongoing social distancing restrictions, public libraries and their partners continued to ensure that different platforms for delivery were available to their audiences. Participants, befrienders and project staff connected in different ways, including:

  • 73% in-person at the library
  • 62% over the phone
  • 31% on online video calls
  • 19% in person at another community organisation
  • 17% in person at home
  • 6% online or through social media

Read our full reach and impact report and find out more about the programme here.

A statement on Reading Well for teens

A new Reading Well for teens collection launched in public libraries in England and Wales on World Mental Health Day 2022 (10th October). The scheme supports the mental health and wellbeing of teenagers aged 13 to 19 years old, providing information, advice and support to help them better understand their feelings, handle difficult experiences and boost confidence in a post-pandemic context.

The list of published titles has been created through a rigorous selection process with health experts including clinicians, experts in the field, partners from across the sector and has been co-produced with teenagers aged 13 to 19 years old, ensuring that it speaks authentically to the needs and interests of users. It features 27 books and a wide array of supporting digital resources, covering a broad range of topics such as wellbeing, anxiety, depression, body image, neurodiversity, bereavement, sexuality and gender identity, all within the wider context of mental health and wellbeing. These were all topics that were mapped against prevalence and identified by teenagers as being important to include. The books can be recommended and selected according to need and choice.

The book selection panel included representation from accredited organisations and professionals including the creator of Book Prescription Wales, NHS England, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of GPs, British Psychological Society, Royal College of Nursing and British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Leading mental health charities, including Mind and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, library staff and government departments were also represented on the panel.

Reading Well for teens is a multi-faceted list curated to address a number of topics and cater to a broad audience; a list which has been created by young people and health professionals to address areas of experience where there is proven need. The Reading Agency’s primary commitment is to supporting teens’ mental health and wellbeing, in line with our core ethos of tackling life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. This goal is supported by the clinicians who helped select the titles, with the list chosen to reflect the range of challenges young people face.

Additional information on our book selection protocol and our book selection framework can be found online. You can read more about Reading Well for teens at reading-well.org.uk.

A statement on Reading Well for teens

A new Reading Well for teens collection launched in public libraries in England and Wales on World Mental Health Day 2022 (10th October). The scheme supports the mental health and wellbeing of teenagers aged 13 to 19 years old, providing information, advice and support to help them better understand their feelings, handle difficult experiences and boost confidence in a post-pandemic context.

The list of published titles has been created through a rigorous selection process with health experts including clinicians, experts in the field, partners from across the sector and has been co-produced with teenagers aged 13 to 19 years old, ensuring that it speaks authentically to the needs and interests of users. It features 27 books and a wide array of supporting digital resources, covering a broad range of topics such as wellbeing, anxiety, depression, body image, neurodiversity, bereavement, sexuality and gender identity, all within the wider context of mental health and wellbeing. These were all topics that were mapped against prevalence and identified by teenagers as being important to include. The books can be recommended and selected according to need and choice.

The book selection panel included representation from accredited organisations and professionals including the creator of Book Prescription Wales, NHS England, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of GPs, British Psychological Society, Royal College of Nursing and British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Leading mental health charities, including Mind and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, library staff and government departments were also represented on the panel.

Reading Well for teens is a multi-faceted list curated to address a number of topics and cater to a broad audience; a list which has been created by young people and health professionals to address areas of experience where there is proven need. The Reading Agency’s primary commitment is to supporting teens’ mental health and wellbeing, in line with our core ethos of tackling life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. This goal is supported by the clinicians who helped select the titles, with the list chosen to reflect the range of challenges young people face.

Additional information on our book selection protocol and our book selection framework can be found online. Read more about Reading Well for teens.

StoryTrails, the UK’s largest immersive storytelling project, drives library visits to pre-pandemic levels

  • Thousands of people head to public libraries to experience local stories and hidden histories
  • Legacy package includes training and immersive tech equipment to ensure communities can continue to access the power of immersive storytelling
  • Libraries across the UK have benefited from the project

This summer, StoryTrails, a unique immersive storytelling experience using augmented and virtual reality, toured to 15 libraries in towns and cities across the UK. Attracting visitors across the country, the project, taking place as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK invited audiences to experience untold local stories and hidden histories in the places where they happened. StoryTrails features digital experiences that invite residents to experience their town or city like they’ve never seen before through augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and an immersive emotional map of the town or city. The experiences centred around their local library as well as on the streets of their town or city.

By working in partnership with libraries across the UK and Northern Ireland, StoryTrails aimed to support libraries through Covid recovery by increasing library visitor numbers, introducing new audiences into the library space, and celebrating their position within communities as centres of innovation and storytelling. The project also recruited 50 creative UK-based talent to help tell the stories of local communities. Led by StoryFutures Academy, StoryTrails wanted to ensure that the UK’s creative industries are not only the best trained in the use of emerging and immersive technologies but that the future workforce properly represents the diversity of the UK.

The libraries StoryTrails visited this summer have reported exceptionally high footfall, with many authorities experiencing visitor numbers not seen prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the high percentage of new visitors reported during the two-day event, 67% of people said they thought they were now more likely to visit the library as a result of experiencing StoryTrails. The public will have ongoing access to StoryTrails and can continue to experience the technology used in the project.

From October until March 2023, the 15 libraries that hosted the 2-day live events will launch their new ‘StoryTrails Stations’. The stations will include the unique collection of stories from the 15 communities and a table-top version of the augmented reality trail which tells an untold story of the town or city, including unseen archive footage as well as offering a range of curated activities for the local community to enjoy such as themed workshops and guided walking trails.

Librarians from the 15 authorities received training in immersive storytelling and technology from StoryFutures Academy, as well as through online training opportunities and a group training session in each of the libraries that held the 2-day event to enable them to effectively run the experiences in their library.

The project has invested extensively into the 15 libraries as part of the Storytrails legacy programme that includes training, and equipment to continue the exciting work with their communities in 2022 and into 2023. During the tour, libraries all over the country reported exceptionally high visitor numbers, with Bristol Libraries noting a threefold increase in visitors compared to their post-pandemic average.

Beyond the 15 towns and cities that have hosted the StoryTrails tour, 5000 librarians and teachers from all over the UK have engaged with immersive storytelling through a free activity pack and resource available on The Reading Agency’s website. Librarians across the country also attended a 2-part webinar series on immersive storytelling, featuring children’s augmented reality author Japhet Asher, whose book ‘The Ghostkeepers Journal’ has been gifted to over 100 libraries across the UK.

On the 9th October at the Odeon Covent Garden, a screening of the documentary film ‘The People’s Piazza: A History of Covent Garden’ presented by StoryTrails’ Executive Producer David Olusoga will take place. Produced by Uplands TV with partners, the BBC and BFI, the film has been created as part of the StoryTrails project and explores the importance and social history of one of the UK’s most famous public spaces.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency said: “We are so pleased to see the huge success that StoryTrails has been for public libraries across the country. Using new technologies, this tour has highlighted how crucial libraries are to supporting storytelling in the local community.”

Isobel Hunter, Libraries Connected said: “We are delighted to see how many people have engaged with StoryTrails across the country. To see so many local and visiting audiences accessing public libraries as a resource and community hub for information and technology in such a creative way is really heartening and shows how vital our library services are.”

Professor James Bennett, Director StoryFutures said: “Through its collaboration with libraries, StoryTrails has provided thousands with their first taste of immersive storytelling: and they loved it! 91% rated our 3D local map experience 4* or 5* and most libraries reported a two- or three-fold increase in footfall, reconnecting visitors to their local library spaces which are such crucial centres of storytelling in our communities.”

Girls in Islington to take part in writing project inspired by legacy of Andrea Levy

The Reading Agency, Islington Libraries and All Change run a poetry and writing for pleasure programme with girls at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school

On National Poetry Day, The Reading Agency and Islington Libraries are pleased to announce that community arts and social change organisation, All Change, is working with girls in Year 6 and Year 7 at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school to deliver a poetry and writing for pleasure programme inspired by the work and legacy of Andrea Levy.

Consisting of three projects across the academic year, students will work with a professional poet and writer to explore the stories and writing of Andrea Levy, and to create and perform their own original work inspired by her writing. The students’ work will culminate in a live public performance event in the borough and will be documented in a publication and podcast. The students will also share their work more widely throughout the year through a series of initiatives including Windrush Day, WORD festival and National Poetry Day and more.

The project forms part of Get Islington Reading, a three-year project funded by the Charity of Sir Richard Whittington to develop a community of happy, confident readers across the borough, building on the work of local network Islington Reads. Delivered by The Reading Agency and National Literacy Trust, Get Islington Reading supports families of children aged 9-14, inspiring young people to keep reading in the transition between primary and secondary school when reading for pleasure can often drop off. By engaging students in writing for pleasure and introducing them to Levy’s work, the workshops will support wider reading habits, increasing their positive reading behaviours and building their confidence.

Andrea Levy, author of Small Island, was born in Islington’s Whittington Hospital in Islington in 1956. She grew up with her family in Twyford House on the Blackstock estate and attended Highbury Hill Grammar School (now Highbury Fields School). Beginning her writing career in her thirties, Andrea went on to produce some of the nation’s most celebrated and influential works exploring the lives and contributions of immigrants and working-class people in the UK. Andrea died of breast cancer in 2019. An Islington Heritage Plaque was unveiled in Levy’s honour on her childhood home in March 2020, at a ceremony attended by her husband Bill Mayblin and family members, Islington Councillors, Baroness Lola Young, and others.

Cllr Roulin Khondoker, Islington Council’s Executive Member for Equalities, Culture and Inclusion, said: “In Islington we are proud of all the amazing literature that has its roots in the borough, and Andrea Levy’s work is a brilliant example. She was a local hero!
“As an award-winning author, she had a huge impact on the UK’s literary landscape, touching the nation’s readers with stories about racism and injustice. I am sure that her writing will fire up the imaginations of the young women taking part in this project.”

Suzanne Lee, Artistic Director of All Change said: “Andrea Levy’s work and achievements are hugely inspiring to young women, but knowing she was born in our local hospital, grew up and went to school in Islington, offers them someone they can really identify with, encouraging them to see what a love of reading a writing can offer for their own futures.”

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency said: “We are delighted to be working with Islington Libraries and All Change on these fantastic workshops with young people in Islington. By engaging pupils in writing for pleasure and through Andrea Levy’s writing, we hope that we’ll see the young people building their confidence and their wider reading habits.”

The Reading Agency

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