Libraries: Vital to stimulate and improve reading skills

School teachers should ensure that their schools are able to create and maintain good libraries
Several recent surveys have revealed that reading ability among Norwegian children and young people is at a disturbingly low level. Both the Ministry of Cultural and Church Affairs and the Ministry of Research and Education have therefore announced the availability of funding for initiatives aimed at stimulating an interest in reading. Libraries clearly have a central role to play in any national campaign to improve reading skills.

Low levels of literacy
Both PISA (Program for International Students Assessment) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) show that many children and young people in Norway, particularly boys, have poor reading skills. 20% of 15-year-olds have such difficulties with reading and writing as to be functionally illiterate. Young people read far fewer books now than just a few years ago and according to Vidar Ringstad and Knut Løyland in their report, The Norwegian Book Branch at the Millennium, if this trend continues the very young will have ceased to read books at all by the year 2014.

Reading strategy in Norway
In order to achieve a more comprehensive approach and a long-term strategy to promote literature in Norway, the Ministry of Cultural and Church Affairs and the Ministry of Research and Education have begun to co-operate more closely. Through the national programme for arts and culture in education (Den kulturelle skolesekken) and the initiative Make Room for Reading, they have made funding available for projects aimed at stimulating interest in reading and promoting literature. Resources are to be better utilised, ideas for projects are to be improved and developed, and the existing professional networks are to be used far more strategically.

Den kulturelle skolesekken
This project, which translates roughly as the cultural schoolbag, is Norway’s national programme for arts and culture in education. A result of co-operation between the Ministry of Cultural and Church Affairs and the Ministry of Research and Education, this project is aimed at “providing each and every schoolchild with broad and regular contact with professional cultural activities”. One of the criteria for success is that the educational and cultural sectors should co-operate at all levels; locally, regionally and nationally.

In 2003 the funding available for stimulating an interest in reading amounted to NOK 5 million. Approximately 16% of these funds went directly to the library sector. Libraries are also often co-operating partners in other projects but only in a subordinate role. The following are a few examples of literary projects which have received grants from the national programme for arts and culture in education.

A year for reading
The association “!les” (!read) – www. – has been granted financial support for its project A year for reading. The aim of the project is to persuade more people to read more books, to promote a wider knowledge of Norwegian literature and, above all, to inspire young people to enter the world of literature. The association intends to use A year for reading to set in motion a number of initiatives which can continue beyond the year of the project. These include a Norwegian national reading championship, a Young People’s Prize for Literature, a scheme for voluntary helpers and a Festival Relay. In this way the project will not only provide one year of inspiration for many but will also be of lasting value for the promotion of Norwegian literature.

United in the pleasure of reading
Politicians are very concerned about the fact that boys between the ages of 10 and 16 often become literary dropouts. Grants have therefore been offered to projects aimed at encouraging boys to read more. The public library in Kristiansund has obtained financial support for its project United in the pleasure of reading. The intention is to use well-known, literate football players as role models and promoters of an interest in reading among boys in the three final years at school. The players will visit schools on several occasions, setting up reading competitions with prizes and signed diplomas. In good football tradition the plan is to have several divisions offering promotion to a higher division as a reward for greater reading.

Not simply words, but also money!
Make Room for Reading Project

This project, planned to last for the period 2003 – 2007, has been allocated an annual budget of NOK 20 million.

The National Programme for Arts and Culture in Education
In 2003 a sum of NOK 60 million was set aside to finance artistic and cultural initiatives in schools throughout the country. By 2005 this amount will have been increased to NOK 180 million. In 2003 the Archive, Library and Museum Authority was provided with a total of NOK 24 million to fund national projects, 5 million of which went towards promoting and improving reading skills.

Winston Churchill is quoted as once having said that there is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies. Following the same line of thought, Norway’s one-time Minister of Culture, Ellen Horn, suggested that there is no better investment than giving children the desire and enjoyment of reading.

Den kulturelle skolesekken

Make room for reading
The Ministry of Research and Education’s initiative Make Room for Reading – a strategy to promote the desire to read and to improve reading skills 2003-2007 provides a list of 38 concrete measures to place reading on the agenda. Since this programme is initiated by the school sector it has greater emphasis on the teaching of children to read as compared to the national programme for arts and culture in education. Nevertheless the two programmes do overlap to some extent, as can be seen from No 2 in the list of measures proposed in Make Room for Reading.

It is important to stimulate pleasure in reading, particularly where boys in the 13-16 age range are concerned, by introducing measures which make reading interesting. Schools should be encouraged to set aside time for reading every day without making conditions as to what must be read or how. Meetings with authors, writing workshops, dramatisation and narration can provide an extra stimulus to school work. Advantage can be taken of the national programme for arts and culture in education when introducing such initiatives. School teachers should ensure that their schools are able to create and maintain good libraries. A school library which is open during school hours, possesses a wide and interesting collection, offers a good range of other material and is run by a competent librarian, will prove a significant factor in enhancing the pupils’ pleasure in reading and in improving reading skills.

Organiser/responsible person: The Norwegian Board of Education, school authorities, head teachers. Time frame: Continuous”

Other aspects of the programme where libraries come in as co-operating partners and advisers on appropriate requirements are for example “national network”, “greater parent participation” and “voluntary assistance”. The following is an example of a project which satisfies the criteria set both by the national programme for arts and culture in education and by Make Room for Reading.

Creating readers
There is the problem that teachers find it difficult to remain updated on new Norwegian literature for children and young people. The Bergen Public Library has received funding for Creating readers, a project directed at a selection of teachers and their 4th year classes in the Bergen elementary schools. The aim of the project is to improve the teachers’ knowledge about new, current literature for children and young people and to promote the presentation of literature in general. To achieve this aim the library will assist 50 or so teachers at 4th class level in 21 elementary schools in their efforts to improve the reading skills of their pupils.

The nature of the work consists of close monitoring and co-operation with the teachers in connection with their individual preparation of lessons, although always on the terms of the teachers and in relation to the school syllabus. The library will place at the teachers’ disposal the methods and expertise of the librarians with regard to fiction and non-fiction for children. The project requires the librarians involved to familiarise themselves closely with teaching programmes and syllabus requirements, not least the arrangements and working methods of each individual school.

Interest for such initiatives to improve reading skills has been more than satisfactory. Although only NOK 5 million was available to assist projects, total applications amounted to NOK 60 million; clear evidence of the scale of involvement. We can only hope that interest among politicians will be maintained and that the projects now set in motion will prove successful.We must ensure that the funds are used to the greatest direct benefit of each individual pupil and that these projects lead to many active and enthusiastic new readers.


The National Programme for Arts and Culture in Education -

Foreningen !les (Association “Read!”) –

OECD’s Program for International Students Assessment (PISA) is concerned with establishing reliable indicators in order to compare the abilities of 15-year-old pupils in the three main subjects of reading, mathematics and the natural sciences. In the course of the year 2000, 270,000 pupils participated, 4,147 of these being from Norway. In that particular year reading was the main subject under assessment.

“Make Room for Reading” Project -

Translated by Eric Deverill
Portrait by Signy Irene Karlsen

Adviser, Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority and project leader for ‘Ønskebok’ in its development phase