Kindergarten libraries nationwide

Danish families with small children work hard and lead very busy lives. It should therefore be easy for them to ‘meet’ the library, for example in the kindergarten. Kindergarten libraries are one of the best examples of the library’s attempt to meet the users right where they actually are.

A kindergarten library serves many purposes. Some of the primary ones are to place books and reading as the centre for interaction between children and adults and to ncourage children’s desire to being read to and to learn to read themselves. Being read to helps children develop – and to develop their command of language. Experience shows that children are more inclined to learn the alphabet if they read and talk about books every day.

And there is certainly a need for stimulating an early zest for reading as the government’s goal is that 95% of all children in a year group in 2015 will be getting a post-compulsory education. Today that figure is only 80%, as many Danish children are not sufficiently proficient in reading to get either an upper secondary school leaving certificate or a vocational education.

Kindergarten libraries also have an overall cultural purpose. Narratives and music give children a number of common artistic experiences and thereby common cultural references.

The kindergarten library – in brief The kindergarten library acts as a satellite to the local public library. 4-5 times a year the librarian changes the materials on loan for parents and children.

We are talking about at least 100-150 titles which are to appeal to children and parents with none, little or a great deal of reading experience. New as well as classic titles must be represented, some popular ones and some of a more experimental character.

The staff of the kindergarten and the local public library organise the library in a conspicuous and easily accessible place in the kindergarten to make it easy for children and parents to borrow books or audio-CDs. Preferably it should be an attractive and somewhat surprising environment which helps create a special atmosphere.

The kindergarten library is ‘self-serve’: Parents write down what they are borrowing and what they are returning. The system must be as simple as possible. It can for example be by way of a folder with book titles which the parent can tick off. It is important that the system is based on trust so that the pedagogues won’t have to spend time and resources on handling issuing and returning.

The librarian visits the kindergarten regularly to arrange activities for children, pedagogues and parents with focus on books, reading and language stimulation. The library and the kindergarten can extend their cooperation with more activities like e.g. narrative theatre for children, talks and courses for children and pedagogues.

Kindergarten libraries have over the past few years been tested in many different versions throughout Denmark, i.a. in connection with a major‘joy of reading’ campaign which ran from 2003-2007. The evaluation of the campaign showed that kindergarten libraries really work. They inspire both children and parents to borrow and read more books together, and they encourage children’s and pedagogues’ interest in books, reading aloud and telling stories on an everyday basis. This affects children’s ability to learn to read in a positive direction at a later stage.

Narrative media

Books are a medium which generally appeals more to girls than boys, and the evaluation of the joy of reading campaign indicates that reading activities in kindergartens attract more girls than boys. However, boys are not uninterested in reading, but they would benefit more from reading-stimulating activities if computers were also being used and the definition of joy of reading extended to include all media and genres. All narrative media have the potential of intensifying children’s interest in reading, and narrative computers in the kindergarten and books combined with electronic narrative games can for example help to awaken boys’ love of reading.

Include written language in every-day life in the kindergarten

Danish researcher, Kjeld Kjertmann, encourages kindergartens to include written language on a daily basis. He maintains that we are hampering children’s developmental possibilities if we don’t – besides the books – include the written language in our interaction with children. It is absurd only to help children to understand the written word within a certain age group. According to Kjeld Kjertmann kindergarten libraries can form part of a necessary reform in our way of viewing society’s written-language education of children. It should not be a question of the school trespassing into the kindergarten, but that support and encouragement are offered the children when they begin to show an interest in writing.

Example of a municipal venture

In connection with the joy of reading campaign Herlev Library took the initiative to establish kindergarten libraries with associated narrative workshops. Apart from this a kindergarten travelling library was established which since then has been stationed in different kindergartens for six months at a time.

The department for children and culture in Herlev is very supportive of the kindergarten libraries and the activities generated by them. The department sees the activities as a fruitful approach to competence development for the staff in relation to their work with language stimulation and learning plans in day-care institutions. The municipality therefore supports the kindergarten libraries’ narrative workshops financially.

Together with narrators and pedagogues the children’s library in Herlev has formed an open joy of reading network with the main objective of providing all kinder-gartens in Herlev with a kindergarten library and a narrating room. So far six kindergarten libraries have been established in the municipality – including the travelling library -that offer borrowing facilities for children and parents.

The network arranges courses, theme days and go-home café meetings for pedagogues. It also provides various arrangements in order to encourage joy of reading and narrative in families and kindergartens. The network moreover arranges an annual narrative festival.

You can read more about kindergarten libraries at under ‘Biblioteksbetjening af børn’.

The Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Welfare, grant a subsidy of DKK 1.5 mil. annually during the period 2008-2010 for the establishment of kindergarten libraries, to be administered by the Agency for Libraries and Media. In early April 2009 grants have been given for the establishment of in all 52 kindergarten libraries (Model Basis. DKK 20-40,000 with self-financing). Moreover, grants have been given to cultural activities for the children and competence development for the staff in 40 already established kindergarten libraries (Model Plus. DKK 30,000 without self-financing). A total of 21 of the country’s 98 municipalities have so far applied for grants towards the establishment of kindergarten libraries.

Ann K. Poulsen
Library Consultant Danish Agency for Libraries and Media

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Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Senior Advisor Agency for Culture and Palaces