Joy of reading

The libraries must actively support children’s joy of reading
The theme for this issue of Scandinavian Public Library Quarterlyis children, reading and reading campaigns. Especially for children and young people the competition from other media and activities is immensely strong, and boys in particular seem to drop books in favour of other pursuits. But however many stimulating games and other media are developed, reading remains as important a culture-competency as ever. Perhaps even more so.We therefore have to seek new ways of encouraging children to read and in practice it will often be up to us to safeguard the book’s firm position as part of a versatile media use.

Reading is one amongst other tools for self-development and learning, and it is important that we see books in a positive interplay with other media. The essence of the modern library concept is that libraries give access to information content, whatever the media. But I must maintain that reading and consequently books should still be given first priority in the library – and the challenge facing us is to persuade children and the young to share this point of view, because reading skills are imperative for our ability to develop, both as people and in a professional sense. Besides, reading skills are absolutely essential for our educational advancement.

The kindergarten library as eye-opener
The secret is therefore to make sure that the child’s first meeting with the library becomes the introduction to a lifelong and enriching relationship. The methods for creating such a valuable first meeting are basically a question of integrating access to the library and its materials as simply as possible in children and other users’ daily lives.

Kindergarten libraries – which we are in the process of developing in Denmark – are a good example of this: Here it is made very easy for harassed parents collecting their children to get picture books and books for reading aloud – and when bedtime comes, the books are just at hand. The kindergarten libraries are a success and the model can easily be transferred to other children’s institutions and used in many other contexts, all of them helping to make children familiar with books from an early age. At the same time, new alliances are formed between the librarians and other professional groups who are given the chance to make the best possible use of the library service in their work. Kindergarten libraries are not about the kindergarten having a pile of books available for the children to borrow – they are also an example of how librarian and teacher work together and stimulate children as well as their parents because they are well aware of the needs of both.

Visit the library from home
Good library portals on the Internet also demonstrate how the public libraries can incorporate the mediation of literature as a natural element in the daily environments of both children and adults. In Denmark it is for example possible for anyone to search in the Danish libraries’ materials on the website, order the materials to be collected – in some instances even having them delivered. So using the library becomes very easy. Integrated in the portal is an extremely popular children’s inquiry service called Ask Olivia (that co-operates closely with Danish Radio) and the virtual children’s library DotBot which also provides tips on what to read.

Once again the strategy is for an interplay between the media and letting them supplement each other. There is the risk though of children using only the Internet services and discarding the books. The net strategy therefore has to be combined with outreach activity and co-operation with teachers and other players in children’s daily lives.

The personal meeting
The possibility of meeting authors and illustrators personally at specially arranged events in the library can likewise open eyes as well as doors – particularly if the artist has really got something to say and knows how to get his message across and capture an audience. Or if he knows how to involve children in a creative writing and drawing process that helps to develop the child’s understanding of the story and the picture. The Danish reading campaign Children and literature features amongst other things regular visits to the library by the same author, and I am very hopeful about this particular activity because I feel it will inspire the children as well as the librarians and the teachers.

Personal mediation will always play an important role. The librarian can and must continue to play a very essential part in the stimulation of children’s joy of reading.

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Jens Thorhauge Thorhauge Consulting, independent advisor