Dash to the library!

The municipality of Pornainen is located in central Uusimaa and it is a municipality with an ever-growing population. At present, it has nearly 4,400 residents. Pornainen is particularly popular among families with children. The proximity of the capital region (with only a 55-kilometer drive to Helsinki), the idyll of the countryside and the economically priced building lots are assets of our municipality.

The population of Pornainen grows about 2-3% a year and Pornainen is also one of Finland’s fastest growing municipalities. The average age of municipal residents is 33.3 years and children (0-17 years of age) make up 34% of the municipality’s population. In recent years, schools have been built at the rate of nearly one school per year. Additionally, old schools have been renovated and extended according to needs and resources. The parish village in the municipality has a primary school and a secondary school, and the other villages have four primary schools altogether.

Pornainen’s new library building was completed in 1999. The library employs a library director and two librarians. In addition to the main library, the library has four lending locations in the village schools for the students. One of the librarians manages these lending locations in the village schools independently, working on average 2.5 hours per location per week. Managing these lending locations is very rewarding work. Teachers at the branch schools have creditably understood how important reading is to their students. The students from the branch schools borrow many different kinds of books, and when our librarian comes back to the main library from the branch schools with her bookbag, she always has a towering stack of requests for information and certain books from the main library. I consider this form of service to be especially important, and we have no intention of discontinuing it under any circumstances, in spite of the fact that it demands almost half of the working hours of one of our librarians.

The objective of all the staff is to turn the library into a ‘living room’ for the residents of the municipality. Our goal is to make the threshold to the library a low one to step over. In addition to traditional library services, we provide our municipal residents with a combination of civil services; it is possible to obtain service for police matters, city administrative court services, social insurance services, tax office services and unemployment office services. First and foremost, we provide forms associated with these services and access to Internet services. A social insurance officer is available for appointments at the library once a week and the police also pay a visit to the library weekly bringing/picking up document mail.

In addition to lending out library material, we also lend out snow shoes, walking sticks for Nordic walking, and cotton bookbags.We arrange an annual book recycling drive, to which patrons can bring their own books for reuse and, accordingly, take home books that others don’t need anymore. Furthermore, we try to keep the library premises accessible even when the library is closed. The library’s lower floor has served as the meeting place for the nature club and baby exercise club. The lower floor of the library, Pellavasali, additionally functions as exhibition and meeting facility.

I think, however, that the most important task of a library pertains to books: to help our patrons to find the joy in reading. For this reason, I have developed the library ‘book pass’ in our library for small children. Other libraries surely have a similar kind of reading pass, and every parent of a small child remembers how extra stars next to their child’s name motivated him or her to brush his/her teeth by themselves, for example.

The idea of the book pass is very simple and implementing it does not require a lot of money. The most important requirement is enthusiasm for the idea and a creative mind, to make the book pass as attractive as possible. Our artistically talented librarian is responsible for the visual appearance of our book passes. The cover of the pass is made of colorful copying paper and there are several different cover choices. The book pass contains about five double-page spreads. Each spread has room for information about nine books (the author and title of the book). When the child has read three books, he or she receives a sticker in the book pass.

Additionally, the children evaluate each book they read by adding stars next to the book.When the pass is full, it is submitted to the library for a drawing of prizes. A child can fill in as many book passes as possible between January and mid-May, according to how many books he or she has had time to read. The draw takes place in May before the end of the school year.

The book pass is, in principal, intended for primary school children (6-12 years), but if they want, younger children can also receive a pass. If the child him or herself does not know how to read, someone who is able to read (preferably the mother or father) should read three books to the child in order for him or her to get a sticker in his or her pass. So, we are also trying to ‘surreptitiously’ teach parents to spend some enjoyable moments reading with their children.

We have received criticism about the reading passes from those parents who do not want to read to their children! They don’t like that the library is ‘forcing’ parents to read to their children. Hopefully, some of these critical parents will still read to their child and see how reading brings a parent closer to his or her child. It is sad to hear about children who have never had a story read aloud to them prior to attending school. At school, they ask as the teacher is reading Sleeping Beauty, “what is a princess?” Book passes therefore also fulfil a social need.

The book pass has been an overwhelming success among children. One boy became so enthusiastic about the book pass idea, that he borrowed so many books that his backpack broke when he put them in it!

Children usually come to the library together with their friends and they compare book passes, after which they carry out the important task of choosing a sticker to put in their pass. I try to buy as many different stickers as possible, from which the children can choose their favourite. Some groups of girls come to the library after school. First they do their homework together and then they choose books together for themselves. The fastest girls manage to read the whole book while in the library.

Rules for the book passes have taken shape over the years and are currently as follows:

  • When you have read three books, you receive a sticker
  • Evaluate the book you have read using stars (one star= the book was o.k., five stars= this was a great book, I would recommend it to a friend)
  • For younger children, all books are acceptable, from picture books to novels
  • For the older children, we do not accept picture books (otherwise, some overenthusiastic reader might fill several book passes too quickly and our sticker supply would run out)
  • If you are not able to read yet, you will get a sticker when an adult has read three books to you
  • The books you read do not have to be books borrowed from the library, but can be books from your own bookshelf as well.

At first, the reading pass was valid for the whole year, but that was too long. Children did not want to fill it for such a long time. Now the book pass is valid from the beginning of January until mid-May. Before schools close for the summer, I go through the book passes and divide them up by schools. A prize is given to the student from each school who has read the most books. Additionally, I draw several prizes for the remaining book passes. That way, even a student who has only read one book can win a book as a prize, and that, if nothing else, is an encouragement to read. The number of prizes depends on how many I have bought and received as donations. Our book supplier has been happy to give us book donations for this purpose. The prizes are mainly books and I try to choose a book which is suitable for the age of each winner. Prizes may also consist of, for example, pens and writing paper.

The child who has read the most books in the entire municipality additionally receives some sort of extra prize, which is usually a soft toy. I send a letter to the homes of the winning children notifying them that they have won. In the letter I write whether the addressee is among those who have read the most books, or whether lady luck has been smiling upon him/her. For many children, this is the first letter they have ever received. It is interesting to see how shy some of the children are when they come to the library, while others are so eager to receive their prizes. In addition to the letter, the names of all Rulers, pens and our brochures the winners are posted on the library’s bulletin board and printed in Pornainen’s bulletin newspaper, which is distributed to every home in the municipality. I return the full book passes to the children; it might be fun for them to look at them when they are adults to see what they read as children.

In my opinion, apart from awakening a fondness for reading, the book pass is bringing a familiarity of the library to parents who may themselves not take advantage of library services.

In addition to spreading the joy of reading, we want to spread the ‘library message’.We have had a splendid fourcolor brochure made of our library. We also have library pens and rulers bearing the library’s address and motto, “Viivana kirjastoon” (dash to the library). Library employees within Finland helped us to come up with the motto. I already had the idea to order pens and rulers, only an effective text was missing. I put a request for help in coming up with a motto in the library discussion column. I received many good suggestions and four different library employees suggested “Viivana kirjastoon”. I know many other libraries were very fond of this motto, and at least one of them has borrowed the same idea for their own library. I give out our library brochures, pens and rulers to our library visitors and at different conferences for the library field. Who will a colleague remember better, someone who gives him/her a business card, or someone who gives him/her a business card and a ruler?

So, dash to the library!

Translated by: Turun Täyskäännös OY

Director, Pornainen Municipal Library.