Read yourself to millionairedom

Ring a friend or ask an audience member appointed to your team if you yourself cannot think of an answer – these are the rules for the reading contest organised by Lapland’s municipal library.

Four nervous teams sit in the assembly hall of the school. They have been preparing for a month for the contest, which was devised by the library and organised in association with the schools. The teams have been preparing by reading packets of books which have been sent to the schools. Teachers and parents, as well as the school cook have been the judges in the ‘sparring ring’. The primary school contestants receive 5-20 Euro for their own answers; when helped by the audience or friends, they receive 3 Euro. By the end of this Lapland municipal reading contest, based on the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” show, the schools will not only have gained a book token, but enthusiasm, skills in reading, and the joy of success as well.

The sought-after prize of the reading contest in Vampula was a night in a medieval midnight library, where a sixth grade class, the contest winner, ventured through the bookshelves from dusk till dawn. Now and then there was time to sleep, however. The medieval midnight library was a place where the students were transformed into poor knights, they answered questions about the theme, and watched a medieval movie. The library became known in a new way and exercises in finding information were the reward, because this was part of the adventure.

The project Lukuleikki (reading games), based on the Ministry of Education’s children’s cultural-political program, approaches parents with children under school age through Finland’s child welfare clinic. Turku’s Luku-ilta (reading evening), founded through the joint effort of day-care, the child welfare clinic, and the children’s library and reading centre, was a pilot which preceded the nation-wide programme. It started at the beginning of 2004. Parents and children met author of children’s literature, Hannele Huovi, and library employees provided participants with tips on what books to read. The library also prepared a selection index for the child welfare clinic to distribute to all parents.

In the National Board of Education’s Luku-Suomi project (Read Finland), which will come to an end this year, school libraries are being developed in dozens of municipalities, along with co-operation between public libraries and schools. One goal of the project is to improve reading and writing skills, to increase literary knowledge and teach new reading skills. The participating municipalities also have plans for including data management skills and instruction on using the library in the curriculum for different grades.

The reorganisation of the criteria for the curricula currently being used in schools provides libraries with a valuable opportunity to engage in closer co-operation with the school system. Forms of activity and methods of systematically promoting data management which are planned together can be an aid in obtaining additional resources, or at least provide good bases for budget discussions, since the cooperation is documented in the curriculum. The promotion of reading as a hobby and the transfer of data search skills and data management skills to students is an interest concerning both library professionals and teachers.

In 2003, the provincial government distributed allocations to libraries for the first time for projects promoting an interest in reading. Of the 204 municipalities in the province of West Finland, 68 submitted applications, most of which were reading and book recommendation projects organised by several co-operating municipalities. Allocations were granted for 35 projects in the province. The number of participators in the projects, however, was twice the number of libraries, schools and day-care centres. The allocations granted were not large, but thanks to them, thousands of schools were reached. The children and youth network services had already been an area of priority in the content production projects funded by the Ministry of Education. Last year many joint book recommendation workshops were also organised for library personnel and teachers throughout Finland. Co-operation among municipalities and between schools and libraries guarantees that reading will be supported in small communities as well.

National compilation of statistics concerning the loaning and acquisition of book material for children and the young in public libraries began in 2001 in Finland. Extended time series cannot yet be checked, but the statistical database shows, among other things, that children’s books make up about 30% of the libraries’ acquisitions and 28% of the loans are children’s books, as 17.8% of the population is less than 15 years of age. The variations between the municipalities were great; in some municipalities, the percentage of children’s literature exceeded 50%, and the acquisition of children’s literature varied between 10 and 56%. Reports by provincial governments that were based on a survey conducted in 1997 showed that municipalities have given priority to the acquisition of books for children and the young and that cutbacks in material acquisitions have been directed more to adult material.

However, on average, we have not been able to direct sufficient resources towards children’s libraries. This is another reason that co-operation between libraries and schools is important. In small and mid-sized libraries, work within children’s libraries is usually part of some other project and not a specialised area.When provincial governments decided upon staff resources for 2002, many libraries announced that the entire library staff would participate in the work of the children’s library, but the working hours for this are not usually calculated.

As a result of the efforts and co-operation of Finland’s educational and library institutions, Finnish primary students have emerged as top readers in the OECD Pisa study, despite the lack of resources. Projects promoting reading skills and an interest in reading are nevertheless still necessary. In her recent pedagogical dissertation, Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen, from the University of Jyväskylä, Department of Teacher Training, states that Finnish children learn to read quickly, but as much as one half of students finishing grade two in primary school have difficulty understanding what they read. ‘Lukuleikki’- type projects are important, because, according to Lerkkanen’s study, listening comprehension improves basic reading skills and understanding. Thus, reading to the child also facilitates learning to read and understanding what is being read.

In an evaluation of 6th graders’ skills, carried out by the National Board of Education in 2002, it was found that older students were also lacking in skills (such as a mastery of alphabetical order) necessary for using books and libraries, although it was found that girls fared extremely well in reading, writing and knowledge of texts, while boys managed only satisfactorily. Even though Finland succeeded quite well in reading, literature, and knowledge about texts and text types compared to other countries, there still remain many reasons for schools and libraries to engage in co-operation which promotes reading, as well as for financial support for this co-operation. The importance of this co-operation has also been confirmed in recent publications by the Ministry of Education, such as Kirjastostrategia 2010 (Library Strategy 2010), the Children’s Cultural-political Program and the Information Society Reading Skills work group memo. Conventional reading skills are necessary for everyone and these also serve as a basis for media and information reading skills. Reading games, book recommendation lessons, reading contests and diplomas may not make a student a millionaire, but he or she will nonetheless be richer in knowledge, skills and experience. Translated by Turun Täyskäännös OY

Freelance Library Specialist