Ways to Read New forms of reading stimulus

‘Ways to Read’ is a project undertaken by the county and regional libraries in nine Swedish counties during the years 2007- 2011. The goal of ‘Ways to Read’ has been to find new ways to stimulate reading and linking it to creative and other art forms. Approximately 80 participants from fifty libraries have taken part.

Do we really need more reading projects?

Conveying the reading experience is a library’s primary concern and its forms must be constantly revised. The world is changing, the children of the 2010s are not the children of the 1990s and children’s librarians come and go.

Where did the idea for the project ‘Ways to Read’ originate?

The first gateway was an exhilarating travel account from a field trip to Berlin made by the library association’s network for young adults in 2005. We were told about the LesArt in Berlin, a place that brought together all sorts of reading art forms and storytelling (http://www.lesart.org) Another was the Government survey from the Task Force for Children’s Culture (2006), which put forward proposals for literary centres of experimentation and instructions regarding children’s literature and we took it from there!

Additional inputs were: The aim of children’s libraries, as stated in Children and young people, which is based on the Convention on the rights of the child, need to be firmly implemented in the everyday existence at libraries. The expanded concept of text, namely that all forms of artistic expression are texts that tell something, was of course also included. This should imply the need for libraries to collaborate with others who can contribute whatever is missing at libraries, which traditionally are most associated with written texts.

By what means does ‘Ways to Read’ differ from other reading projects?

‘Ways to Read’ differs from other projects by its scale, its many sub-projects and the fact that it stretches across an extensive period of time. Earlier projects have been about displaying a child’s perspective in library operations, social orientation and to fill gaps in knowledge theoretically and in practice concerning children’s libraries. With ‘Ways to Read’ we plunged straight into the core issue of children’s librarians: the conveyance of the reading experience.

What methods have you used to enthuse participants?

We made use of knowledge building through lectures and exchanging experiences. The forum for exchanging experiences has given great dividends in that participants got to meet several times during a two-day period at the same conference facility in Tallberg. It created a fertile ground for processes to evolve. Follow-ups with individual  interim reports, a blog and a study trip to Norway, Denmark, Finland and Gotland have further strengthened the process.

Can you name some of the events the participants took part in?

Book improvisations, book events, poetry workshop at the Museum of Art, drama, Mamma Moo reality show, etc.

What were the results of the project?

Eva Bergstedt, a freelance journalist and information officer, produced a performance evaluation and a year later, an impact evaluation. The objectives of the project was

  • that participants could try new forms of reading stimulus for and with children
  • that there would be one or more activities in the nine counties that would serve as ‘literary houses’ in the LesArts spirit
  • the existence of economic conditions for a couple of long-term operating forums bringing together different skills for experimentation regarding reading stimulus
  • the participants have elevated their media skills and established new contacts for cooperation in their local context.

The results were positive. 81% of the participants said they had changed their views about working with ‘Ways to Read’. 84% said they had changed their professional approach. 77% had created new networks. Broadly speaking, the positive results remained with the effect evaluation.

At the time the performance evaluation was completed the objectives of the literary house in the LesArts spirit were not met, but now that the impact assessment was made, we could say that results were above expectations. At Sandviken’s City Council a resolution wherein the notion of literary houses be incorporated into a future cultural centre where the library, arts college and art gallery will be operating under the same roof. It will be completed in 2013. In Södermanland, Västmanland and Örebro county the Bubble is running its second consecutive summer, a blue motif painted caravan equipped with props to stimulate storytelling in different forms. The Bubble pops up where you usually do not find the libraries, at festivals, beaches, markets, sports events and neighbourhoods without libraries. In Östergötland the idea took form at a web mail site at the Children’s Library in Östergötland. In Uppsala County there will shortly be two ‘Wandering Story Cupboards’, a joint collaborative effort with the Uppland museum. An annual children’s literature festival in Falun and an annual meeting / training in the spirit of LesArt at Wik’s Castle are other expressions that the literary house idea has taken on.

What are the success factors?

  • That the project ran over an extensive period of time providing the opportunity for contemplation and reflection between meetings and giving the opportunity to conveniently analyse the lessons learned at sessions back home.
  • Enabling participants to meet in circumstances reminiscent of boarding schools. The disadvantage of such a large catchment area as that of central Sweden could be turned into an advantage. For two days, one left the everyday life; the creative breaks increased and participants had time to feel at ease in each other’s company.
  • The large number of participants. Networks have been created both within and between the nine counties. With so many involved the quality of discussions reached higher levels and the budget allowed for high-class lecturers. The feeling of being part of a context has been clarified and the participants have been strengthened in their professional capacity and identity.

The project responded to a need and came at the right time. There are times when project ideas fail to appear when most needed, but ‘Ways to Read did’. The LesArt concept from Berlin merged with the need to be immersed in literature and to renew work on reading stimulus.

What will happen after the project? Each county will continue monitoring the dissemination of various ideas managed by county and regional library management. The project is partly described in Ways to Read. New forms of reading stimuli (2010) and Literary houses. Rooms for Ways to Read (2011). A series of texts about children libraries seen from a theoretical point of view, supported by the National Arts Council, previously produced under the supervision of the Regional Library in Stockholm. The third book in the series: Children’s libraries and reading stimuli – Participation, attitude, cooperation (2011) have been produced under ‘Ways to Read’ and is a narrative review of 93 reading projects. The aim is to identify themes and trends by applying appropriate theories to highlight and analyse the factors affecting the projects. The Department of Library and Information Science in Borås has conducted extensive research on all parts of the series. Hopefully, the analysis can provide new insights for the project planners, librarians, and by extension have the children benefit in the form of more enjoyable, varied and imaginative methods in which to encourage reading.

You’ve tried the concept of a Literary House, is it in your view, a useful concept?

Yes and no. A common objection is that libraries already ARE Literary Houses. Interpreted in such a manner the concept can be rather limiting, or even a provocation. However, if one focuses on work methods and taking cooperative measures with practitioners in other art forms at a level that also changes the professional role – then it becomes something useful and progressive!

Solveig Hedenström
Library Consultant
Gävleborg County Library Uppsala
solveig.hedenstrom AT lul.se
Translated by Jonathan Pearman

Library Consultant Gävleborg County Library Uppsala