Library column: Orange at the grassroots

Penny Shapland
Opinion - Libraries Tuesday, 10th March 2009

Orange has used its prize sponsorship to promote reading far beyond medialand, Penny Shapland writes I ve always admired the way Orange uses its sponsorship of the Orange Prize to get great and accessible books into the hands of readers at the grassroots. Ten years ago, when I was a librarian in Hertfordshire, Orange sponsored us to run a daytime event at Welwyn Garden City Library. We wrote to the women's community groups on the county's database, and hundreds crowded in to hear Kate Mosse talk about the prize and the writers who had been longlisted for it. Readers groups were set up, books were bought, borrowed and discussed, a good buffet was eaten, and people went away feeling extra good about Hertfordshire Libraries and Orange. For the last eight years, Orange has scaled up its support for this kind of activity, sponsoring The Reading Agency to promote the whole range of prize books and to make social events where writers meet readers much more usual in libraries across the UK.

This enlightened approach to sponsorship means that not just the winner of the Orange Prize, but all 20 longlisted books as well as the books by the three writers shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers get into the hands of many thousands of readers. It is not just the literary in-crowd at the awards night but also hundreds of readers groups in cities from Aberdeen to Penzance who are part of the excitement around the prize.
Our work also ensures that all 20 longlisted writers and the three new writers shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers sell a minimum of 1,000 extra copies each, and their books are read many times by readers and discussed in reading groups. Without this sponsorship, the boost in sales and profile would be limited to the winners widening the gap between a handful of stars and the mass of writers who receive little attention.
For the past three years, Orange has supported a major annual event for readers outside London. The Reading Agency is organizing the third annual Orange Readers Day this year in Birmingham on 9 May. Four hundred readers will have the opportunity to spend time with writers and literary figures connected with the Prize, and all the writers books will be available for sale at the event at Birmingham's Conservatoire.
Other leading prizes have followed Orange's lead in announcing longlists and promoting more accessible titles, but none has so far done as much outreach work. The activity for this year's Orange Prize and Orange Award for New Writers in 2,000 libraries and at the Birmingham readers day will ensure that a wider range of books is read and discussed by a wider range of people than for any other literary prize.
Penny Shapland is Director of Resources and Strategic Operations at the Reading Agency.