All of Rogaland county is reading

One of the most popular reading projects in Stavanger will be set in motion this autumn for the fourth year in succession. All of Rogaland county is reading revolves around Sølvberget – Stavanger Public Library and Cultural Centre giving away 50,000 books to people in the region in order to create a common reading experience. The project has resulted in libraries getting a massive amount of media publicity and borrowers being attracted to their local library to collect their free book.

The project owner is Sølvberget, which is Stavanger’s public library and cultural centre: Stavanger is a city in the county of Rogaland, situated in western Norway. Sølvberget’s vision is to be the heart and mind of the city. It comprises both a cinema and a library, and is Stavanger’s most visited cultural attraction.

The project started on a smaller scale in 2008 under the title, The whole city is reading, when Stavanger was chosen as a European city of culture. The goal was to get as many people as possible reading the same book in Stavanger and its environs, and hence achieve a common reading experience. The idea to get everyone in a whole city reading the same book came from the USA, which has The Big Read. In 2009 the project was expanded when as many as 50,000 books were given away at selected libraries in Rogaland county. In 2010 the project formally became regional and all the libraries in Rogaland county contributed.

To reach as many readers as possible we are kick-starting the project every autumn by linking up to the annual literature festival called ‘Kapittel, Stavanger International Festival for Literature and Freedom of Speech.’ The reading project is launched the weekend before the festival begins in order to get maximum press coverage and so that people have a few days to prepare themselves by reading the book before the start of the festival. Several of the programme items during the festival are directly connected to the reading project.

Book choices from year to year

Using different methods of choosing the books from year to year has created variety in the choice of books and this gives the project freedom to react to tendencies in society. Nevertheless, there are a couple of basic criteria at its core: – the book has to appeal to a broad audience – it should not be a book that most people have already read.

In the first year, everyone in Stavanger was encouraged to suggest a book they thought everyone should read. The five books which got the most votes, plus five books chosen by a jury, were listed on a voting slip and people could decide which title should be the winner.

The book that won, by a whisker, was Kaninbyen (Rabbit City) by the author Arild Rein. The book is a novel about the darker side of society in the oil boom city Stavanger. Many thought this a rather surprising choice in that the author had previously been something of an undiscovered talent. For us it was rather a confirmation that people wanted these hidden treasures and in addition wanted to tell others about these lesser-known but worthwhile reading experiences. This is an indication that Sølvberget has achieved something by its efforts over many years to promote fiction that would otherwise drown in the marketing of bestsellers.

Using voting slips has to be regarded as a stroke of genius, in that it resulted in the promotion of not just one book, but of all the ten finalists. The list could be seen as a ‘best of ’ list where all the finalists became big reader successes.

The next book in fact chose itself, in that the financial crisis hit us for six in the course of September 2008. It gave us the opportunity to dust the cobwebs off an outstanding Norwegian novel on the topic, namely Fortuna by Alexander L. Kielland (1849-1906).

The idea to choose Kielland’s novel resulted in two important collaborators being included in the project, namely Stavanger Chamber of Commerce and Industry and LO Rogaland (TUC branch for Rogaland) – LO is Norway’s largest employee organisation. Together we applied for funding for the project from SpareBank 1 SR-Bank, which supports many cultural events. The book choice and our collaborators secured us 400,000 Norwegian kroner (52,000 Euro) for the project from the bank’s ‘gift fund’.

As Kielland died many years ago his books are free to distribute, which meant we did not have to pay royalties. Therefore we could afford to print as many as 50,000 copies of the book. This gave us a better opportunity to reach a wider public beyond the Stavanger city limits. Consequently we changed the name of the project to All of Rogaland county is reading. We then had enough books to be able to target more arenas for distribution: for example we gave books to all the city’s taxi drivers.

The bank was very satisfied with the collaboration and wanted to give further support to the project, which meant a more predictable situation for our work from one year to the next. A new collaborator, Rogaland County Library, provided a channel of communication with libraries in the region and we could then plan long-term on the question of maintaining the size of the project.

In 2010 Rogaland County Library received 250,000 Norwegian kroner (32,600 Euro) in support for All of Rogaland county is reading from Reading Year 2010 – a key priority of the Ministry of Culture and the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority that focuses on reading. The funds were used to enhance the project in 2010 when Einar O. Risa’s book Kanne og Søn 1889-1922 was chosen from suggestions received from the public. His book is the first in a series of novels recounting the history of Stavanger from 1889 up to the present day.

Cooperation with the libraries in the county was more active this year, as the ibraries themselves took responsibility for various events. Among other activities, some enthusiastic library employees gave out books at holiday camps and on boats that take commuters between the islands and over the fjords. The author also participated in book-signing sessions. In addition we cooperated with museums in the Stavanger region so that we were able to market the project through their channels and we had several collaborative events. This year, for the first time, we had printed T-shirts and made an audio book/Daisy book in cooperation with NLB (Norwegian Library of Talking Books and Braille). This was sent to all the counties in Norway. In addition we made a leaflet about the author, which was included, and this was particularly popular with literature groups and reading circles.

In 2011 the project leaders wanted more young people represented on the jury. This was successful as the title that won, Lene Ask’s book Hitler, Jesus og farfar (Hitler, Jesus and Grandfather) had a wide appeal both among youth representatives and the other jury members. The book describes one person’s experience of growing up in an evangelical chapel environment in Stavanger and the path life takes from there.We will have a stronger focus on cooperation with upper secondary schools this year, as the book is especially suited to this target group.

How does Sølvberget work with the project?

Sølvberget regards equality in the organisation as very important, which means that everyone has to do their bit at every level, such as information desk duty and tidying away books etc. Everyone who is employed in the library does the same tasks, even the specialised tasks such as registration etc. Project work comes on top of their normal work and so All of Rogaland county is reading is a matrix- organised project. This means that the project is possible because employees put in an extra effort over an intensive period.

We can see that our experience from All of Rogaland county is reading has made us more structured and professional when it comes to organising and running projects, but we can always find room for improvement. Consequently almost half of Sølvberget’s 60 employees were sent on a foundation course in project management. This means that many of us now have a better understanding of the various aspects of project work.

Project partners

The project in 2011 will be a cooperation between Stavanger Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LO Rogaland, Rogaland County Council and Sølvberget. These partners represent an important tool for reaching out to new target groups. Stavanger Chamber of Commerce and Industry will include the free book in their members’ magazine Rosenkilden which goes out to all the business leaders in the Stavanger region. The members’ magazine is sent out ahead of the project start every autumn and there is always an article in the magazine that describes this year’s project and the thought process behind the book choice. Cooperation with LO Rogaland is a strength and gives the project potential, which we can certainly exploit even better in the future. Rogaland County Council provides a better foundation for the project as it gives access to a good network throughout the whole county.

Collaborating partners are important when it comes to procuring funding from several places. Many more libraries ought to try and acquire funding for projects by seeking financial support from new collaboration partners such as banks and key companies.

Value transferability and sharing culture

Sølvberget has gained valuable experience from All of Rogaland county is reading and is trying to share this with as many others as possible.We maintain that this type of project could be successfully carried out in both large and small locations. Several places have already been inspired by our work, for example the town of Gjøvik with its own All of Gjøvik is reading this year. They printed 5,000 copies of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons classic En glad gutt (A Happy Boy) to commemorate the town’s 150-year jubilee after being inspired by our project. The city of Bergen has also been inspired to make its own version called Bergen is reading.

Good publicity for the libraries

The Rogaland project has resulted in good publicity for the libraries, which are not exactly famous for blowing their own trumpets about their services.

The individual libraries do not need ‘media geniuses’ to draw attention to themselves. The project All of Rogaland county is reading has become a ‘talking point’ and in fact sells itself. The fact that we have something free to give away means we attract people to the libraries so they can collect the book and at the same time they discover what their local library has to offer.

The simplest is often the best: the project comprises simply giving out free books. One does not have to be an accomplished salesperson to be able to smile and offer a free book – that is something everyone can manage!

Linn Tønnessen
Project Leader for All of Rogaland county is reading
Sølvberget, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus
Linn.tonnessen AT
Translated by Akasie språktjeneste AS

Project Leader for All of Rogaland county is reading Sølvberget, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus