Recycled Reads: Themes from the Field

Recycled Reads is our team’s client during the first half of our AC4D year. Recycled Reads is a used bookstore within the Austin Public Library (APL). It’s an affordable resource for the community providing 25 cent kids’ books, $1 paperbacks and $2 hardcover books, among other materials. While the store is packed with formerly circulated APL materials, it is also a donation and recycling center for the public, where their donated material is either sold or recycled.

The kid's corner at Recycled Reads.
The kid’s corner at Recycled Reads. Most of these books are 25 cents. 

Over the past month, our team has interviewed and observed a selection of 24 people who work, volunteer, or are customers of Recycled Reads.

The Theme-ing Process

After transcribing our interviews, we broke up each transcription into discrete thoughts, which we call “utterances”. We printed these utterances, cut into small squares and posted on foam boards in our studio. Next, we began the process of marinating in this data – reading, re-reading, and discussing connections, for the goal of identifying thematic patterns. As a team we worked together to discuss the patterns we saw emerging, and started to draw inferences from similar thoughts, seeking the deeper meaning behind the words. We grouped similar utterances under a theme which stated those thoughts to an underlying behavior or attitude.

The Hidden Value of Books
From this wealth of information, we uncovered nine themes that resonated with us. Each speaks to an overarching thread: Books are not merely objects, but facilitators of experience for a reader.

Experience in general is varied and personal, and the same is true with reading. People read to get different types of experience: entertainment, to self-educate, to educate others, and to explore interests. Reading is an active as opposed to passive activity, and the experience is unique to each person. Recycled Reads provides access to these experiences by providing books and other materials at very low cost with a unique, constantly-shifting selection of inventory.

A customer describes a book he wouldn't have otherwise bought. But Recycled Reads affordability allows customers to explore new experiences.
A customer describes a book he wouldn’t have otherwise bought. But Recycled Reads affordability allows customers to explore new experiences.

We saw certain tendencies emerge from our process, and then we defined themes within larger theme categories, below in bold:

Emerging Theme Categories
Ownership & Experience

Theme 1: Children need to own their own books in order to control their experiences.

Theme 2: People select books based on a reflection of how they see themselves, who they want to be, and the type of experience they desire.

Connecting with Others
Theme 3: People recognize a connection between the subject of a book and a person in their life and then, gift books as a means of making that connection tangible.

Theme 4: People desire to share their love of books and reading with others.

Changes with Life Stages
Theme 5: People’s relationship with books changes with their life stages.

Validation of Donations 
Theme 6: When people donate books, they give away pieces of themselves.

Theme 7: When there is monetary value placed on donated books, it belittles the emotional value people have for them.

Theme 8: People trust Recycled Reads to do the right thing with their donated materials by passing them on to others.

Theme 9: Staff and volunteers at Recycled Reads feel the need perpetuate the perception that all donations have value.

A customer at Recycled Reads shows us a list of books he plans on donating.
A customer at Recycled Reads shows us a list of books he plans on donating.

Recycled Reads’ Reaction
We presented the above themes to Recycled Reads’ staff, bolstering our themes with interesting utterances, stories from the field, photos, and observed behavior.

After our presentation, we asked the staff members if they found anything surprising in the themes we presented. One staff member pointed out most of the themes weren’t surprising because, as staff, they are intimately aware of people’s relationship with books. She did say, however, that being presented with these themes affirmed behaviors that she’s familiar with from her career developed over a 17-year career.

However, theme category four, “Validation of Donations,” was met with interest and surprise. Upon reflection, the staff member said that she realizes that she does validate donors when they bring items in, but she had never considered it consciously. The staff and volunteers of Recycled Reads intuitively validate donations, but she hadn’t realized the underlying need for that reassurance. Now that she’s been made aware of that need, the staff can be more aware of the potential difficulty donors have in that situation, and do more to acknowledge it.
Our team is excited for progressing these emerging themes to develop insights for Recycled Reads, and create visualizations of insights for Recycled Reads to consider implementing in the future.