« Back to Positioning the Library

Take Time To READ

King County Library System

Innovation Summary

Americans are spending less time reading for enjoyment. This reduces their opportunities for discovering new ideas, encountering skillful writing, learning new skills, and feeding their imagination. Furthermore, adults who read for pleasure inspire children to read. KCLS set out to make active reading a community priority throughout its service area.

Problem Statement

The challenge was twofold. KCLS’ first goal was to motivate and encourage reading as a valued activity for adults and families, whether reading for pleasure, to build skills or enhancing personal quality of life. The second purpose was to position the 46-branch Library System as a respected community source of information, inspiration and learning, regardless of the information needed, or sought.

Why? National and local studies indicate that, despite the need for high literacy skills in the workplace and to master ordinary, everyday life skills, nearly half the U.S. adult population test significantly below expected reading levels. The result is an under-skilled, uninformed labor pool, lifelong unemployment or limited income, and recurring generations living in poverty. Like any other skill, reading improves with practice. Focused reader-motivation studies indicated that more reading leads to better reading, yet Americans spend less time now than ever on reading for enjoyment. Even good readers lose their reading edge if they don’t read beyond the demands of their daily obligations.

How? Books and reading are the most widely recognized library “brand” according to a recent OCLC study. Through its own research and census reports, KCLS knew that despite 90% market saturation of residents eligible for KCLS library cards, nearly 200,000 area residents were still unaware of library services in their communities and weren’t able to take advantage of essential library resources and services. A bold campaign to encourage reading of all kinds and in all formats would raise awareness of the Library System and reach new potential patrons in innovative ways, particularly outside the physical library buildings. The high-visibility campaign would also emphasize reading as a community-wide priority, invite and motivate people to increase their optional reading, and use libraries in person and online.


KCLS commissioned a study to identify residents’ attitudes toward libraries and reading. The results showed strong positive association with KCLS and reading. However, survey and focus group participants indicated “a lack of time” as their biggest obstacle to reading. Respondents also mentioned lack of access to reading materials, and insufficient “free time” for recreational reading. In a surprise finding, respondents did not relate to the word “reader” as an accurate description of themselves, even if they read frequently. “I’m a reader” or “Be a reader” messages would not be successful in this market.

KCLS opted to promote voluntary, recreational reading. KCLS developed an innovative, campaign including public relations, advertising, marketing and social media outreach to provide motivation, access and opportunities for reading in unexpected places.

The KCLS Take Time to READ campaign provided branded recycled “Quick Read” shelves stocked with books and magazines, accompanied by comfy rocking chairs in Tire and auto service centers, health care providers’ offices, recreation and community centers, Department of Licensing offices where adults have unplanned waiting time. “Time to READ” cards, gave “permission” to let chores wait and READ. A social-media based winter reading program for adults offered free “I got caught reading in public” stickers, Starbuck’s coffee gift cards, a book review competition and prize drawings. The final element was an outdoor “Book Cover Walking Tour,” featuring (125) 4’ x 6’ outdoor-framed book cover art signs in eight cities, with mobile-access book talks and a printed walking guide. Other promotions included transit, radio PSAs on numerous stations, including during Seattle Mariner baseball games with on-air personalities talking about their favorite books and encouraging listeners to Take Time to READ. (A booklet describing and illustrating the entire Take Time to READ, Reading Initiative and Community Relations Campaign 2011 will be included by email.)


Take Time to READ is a three-year initiative to promote reading for pleasure and position KCLS as an important member of the community.

While confidentiality prohibits tracking reading behavior or the circulation of featured books, patron comments are uniformly positive, praising the scope and variety of the books in the book cover walking tour, and enthusiastically praising KCLS and host businesses for the Quick Reads shelves and chairs. One Department of Licensing office reports: “I have heard only positive comments. About 500 people each day see the display, and our customers have good reading material while they wait, pleasantly surprised to discover this rich resource.”
Feedback from participants exceeds all expectations. One shop reports: “We are very pleased (with) this program and would very much like it to continue. Customer comments have been very positive, and we have actually had folks stay and read a book instead of visiting the nursery next door. The rocking chair is the frosting on this cake.”

With planning well underway, the second year of implementation is receiving enthusiastic support from first-year participants, and excited new groups joining up for 2012, for a 62% increase in the number of book cover tours, and a 68% increase in the number of book cover signs on display.

Prestigious new partnerships in 2012 include a major hospital and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac), which carries more than 96,000 passengers each day. Both of these sites will reach new audiences on an unprecedented scale, raising awareness of KCLS by promoting the program with prominent displays, and providing well-stocked Quick Reads Shelves and chairs in high-traffic waiting areas, enabling harried travelers and anxious hospital visitors to relax during those captive hours and Take Time to READ. More than 125 new partners are participating in 2012. See accompanying booklet for details.