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About Ask for a Book

Ask for a Book is a collaboration between 15 public library services in England and the creative agency Opening the Book. It is a two-year pilot programme supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

The idea of libraries offering free book suggestions was first mooted by Opening the Book before the pandemic. Then reading took off in a big way during lockdown - the number of people who took up reading again while isolated; the number of people who felt the benefits of reading helped them get through Covid times; the way bookshops and publishers ramped up their digital activities while customers couldn’t get to bookshops. Libraries, too, expanded digitally, and also developed successful hybrid services like Click and Collect – order online and collect physical books. All this gave the context for developing new ideas, especially ideas which would help to build back library services after the pandemic.

As we began to develop concepts, we also faced real, practical challenges. How could we make a personalised recommendation service when library staff time was already stretched very thin? Could we use technology to help? Could we share resources across the boundaries of local authorities so no one service had to do everything?

The result is what you see today – a site which replicates the motivational push that comes through a friend’s enthusiasm for a book to make a personal link between library staff and individual readers. It uses strong tech but depends on expert-curated resources not basic algorithms. It draws on deep experience of how people make reading choices.

The project has been funded by Arts Council England as a pilot to test demand for such a recommendation service and the best ways for libraries to offer it. The call to participate went to all English library services and 15 stepped up to offer their staff time and resources to test it out in depth. If this 2-year pilot is successful, it will lay the ground for a much bigger rollout to many more library services in 2024.

So, if your library service is not one of the 15 early participants, do contact them and encourage them to look out for opportunities to join Ask for a Book in future.

If you have any further questions get in touch with Rachel Van Riel on