Reading Ahead is the new name for the Six Book Challenge.
"We've experienced an amazing domino effect around reading. It all started with the Six Book Challenge," explains Charlotte Boulnois, library service manager (resources) for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
From pilot beginnings four years ago, the Six Book Challenge now runs across all NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) staffed hospitals, plus three outlying sites where laundry, decontamination and sterile support services are provided.
Increasing use of libraries
The Six Book Challenge was introduced to encourage staff to enjoy reading - in particular those new to reading for pleasure or who had fallen out of the reading habit - and to increase staff engagement with NHSGGC libraries.
"Our library network provides clinical information, but this can mean 'back-room' colleagues like porters, domestic or administration staff believe we've nothing to offer them," explains Charlotte Boulnois, who inherited lead responsibility for the Six Book Challenge two years ago. "We welcome participation at all levels, but we've targeted staff from lower pay bands to sign up." By 2014, they represented 48% of participants.
Facilitating staff social interaction was an equally important aim, as was promoting good work/life balance and supporting colleagues- whose jobs involve lots of stress and emotional impact - to 'switch off' at end of their working day. The Six Book Challenge became part of NHSGGC's partnership with Healthy Working Lives.
"It made me read again"
Good word of mouth reaction swelled sign-up at pilot sites, and regular email promotion has since proved very effective too. Nevertheless, lead staff have enterprisingly 'sold' the Challenge face to face to canteen queues, and undertaken 5am visits to get early shift laundry workers based at NHSGGC's outlying Hillington site signed up.
It's paid off. When asked what they liked best about challenging themselves, one 2012 participant said, "It made me read again. I picked books I might not have read." Another said they most enjoyed "Taking part in a group activity with the people I work with."
"It's been a continuous learning process"
The Six Book Challenge became an embedded NHSCCG library network service, with regular WebEx meetings giving organisers the chance to share best practice. Photos from celebration events feature on the staff intranet system; NHSGGC's core skills trainer is using the programme, and one NHSGGC completer has proactively instigated a Six Book Challenge presence on LinkedIn.
"It's been a continuous learning process," says Charlotte Boulnois. "For example, we found that Six Book Challenge book groups didn't work; too many staff struggled to get to regular meetings, or to finish a 'set book' in time."
By 2013, many completers were reading for pleasure more frequently than before. One said, "I liked the variety of the media you could cover, e.g. books, e-books, audio books, magazines, fiction/non-fiction etc." Another commented that they "really enjoyed the challenge and the positive impact it had on the staff taking part."
A gold award
In 2014 NHSGGC won a gold award for achieving 156 Challenge completers. The reading buzz was boosted by the library network's successful bid for Scottish Book Trust funding for six visits from published authors, providing ideal opportunities for Six Book Challenge engagement. Meanwhile story-writing competitions, and creative writing sessions run in partnership with the Workers Educational Association are enjoying flourishing staff participation.
All this was crowned in October 2014 when Six Book Challenge ambassador Martina Cole visited both NHSGGC's Royal Alexandra Hospital and its theatre sterile services unit at Greenock, meeting Challenge completers and signing books.
"Martina's visits were really important. Even though staff struggle to get away from work, tickets were snapped up. Staff at outlying sites can feel isolated, so her Greenock visit was especially brilliant for their morale, and outlying site Challenge completion rates were higher than the overall average," says Charlotte Boulnois.
Meanwhile, the Challenge's main Royal Alexandra Hospital organiser got 75 people signed up during Martina's visit, including community staff running community-based book groups, spreading the domino effect even further, while librarian Tracey McKee received a NHSGGC award for her outreach work with the Challenge.
Medical photographer Simon Wells said: "I never read much before but the Six Book Challenge has got me reading - plus I'm competitive. It breaks down barriers too. Doctors see the book you're reading and it's a conversation starter."
The 2014 evaluation survey showed that 52.4% of participants were reading more than before the Challenge; 77.9% had tried reading different materials to those they would normally choose; 81.4% would continue to use their staff library beyond the Challenge and 98.1% would recommend the Challenge to other staff.
Innovative Six Book Challenge promotion continues. For example, informal 'book and brew' drop-in sessions have been trialled at South Glasgow University Hospital.
"We provide the tea and people can pop along - whether they are doing the Challenge or not - to talk about any book they like," says Charlotte.
Last but not least, when Myra Houghton, an attendance support health & well-being officer, came to meet Martina Cole she said: "The Six Book Challenge has helped show that our library service is for everybody."
Find out more about Reading Ahead
Order materials to run Reading Ahead at your organisation.