THE NETHERLANDS Nordic Plus: Reading promotion in the Netherlands

Promotion of reading has been part and parcel of public libraries in the Netherlands since their beginning. In the 80ies a specific policy for reading promotion was developed allowing an earmarked budget for reading promotion activities at the national level. A number of promotional activities was already initiated and coordinated at the national level, dating back as early as the fifties.

Public libraries have always stressed their role in promoting the pleasure of reading, as distinct from the technical reading curriculum in schools. Public libraries support the schools with seamless supply of attractive titles to the technical curriculum. In the nineties, the associations of publishers and public libraries founded Foundation Reading, to stimulate local and regional reading initiatives and to coordinate evaluation and research.

‘Art of Reading’ (www.kunstvanlezen. nl) is the name of the new reading promotion programme, funded by the Ministry, and assigned to the Netherlands Public Library Association and the reading Foundation.

Four programme lines are developed:
1. Test of Boekstart
2. Service package to schools for low literacy
3. Cultural historical canon
4. National coverage of services through reading promotion networks.

The basic idea behind the programme lines is that reading promotion is most effective through a continuous offer of supportive activities, related to language education. Structural and content based cooperation with stake- holders like government, professionals, health consul- tations bureaus/ child care centres and educational institutes is the best way to form and execute policies. Reading for pleasure, preferably of culturally valuable texts is also a point of departure.

The programme lines’ activities are monitored to provide research data and make the service evidence-based.

Bookstart aims at intensive cooperation on books and reading with parents of babies (0-1 years old), and relate them actively to the local public library. An early start is of benefit to the child throughout her/his life. The parents of the young born receive an invitation to the library, based on their visit to the child healthcare service – an obligatory visit in the Netherlands. On their first visit to the library they receive a small suitcase with a book, DVD (model-film on reading and playing with the baby and books) and library information on additional services. Pilot projects in the province of Noord Brabant show positive results. Branch libraries refresh their services and interior design to adapt to the very young. A new target group visits the library, and not only the baby’s but also their brothers and sisters become members; parents take a test- membership card. Other provinces and large cities will follow in 2009- 2010.

Nationally developed products are: logo, a collection of baby books, tips for creating a baby corner in the library; a suitcase with two books and a leaflet for parents; banners to promote book start and a dedicated website:
www.boekstart.nl

Brochures for professionals and a coupon for parents to receive the membership and the suitcase are prepared in autumn 2009.

Service package to schools to support low literacy schools, is a pilot project undertaken by seven libraries facilitating 30 of these schools. The libraries are clearly visible in the schools: a librarian is present, the collection has current titles and strong visibility, and attractive presen- tation. Reading is promoted and rewarded. Registration of membership, visits and loans by the pupils are monitored.

The pilot libraries use a variety of services to create closer contacts with pupils. These are for example: appointment of a coordinator of reading for pleasure for four schools, including coaching of the schools; Hyves is used for a dedicated site with gadgets for students, blogs on reading activities. Theme collections and Easy to Read materials are presented in attractive displays. In the city of Utrecht serious attempts are made to reach all children in primary education with tailor-made programmes for every school, an investment in a structural and long-term relation with the school. Research in another city showed that fewer children are (active) members of the public library than expected. Classroom visits and borrowing is now a priority. Intensive discussions between library staff and teachers, including the reading coordinator, have resulted in a weeding and refreshing of the school collections and adapted reading materials in new display.

In the national programme both reading coordinators (teachers) and librarians are invited to training courses.

Cultural history canon

When it was discovered that the current knowledge of Dutch history was below acceptable levels (even proven by a test among politicians) a cultural historic canon was made to introduce basic historical knowledge to a wider audience (www.entoen.nu). Children’s libraries have added 200 titles to encourage in-depth discovery, which link also directly to the national virtual Reading Plaza: www.leesplein.nl, maintained by the ass. For children, the various ‘windows’ are thus encouraging to read. Discussions with (children’s books) publishers about the availability of the materials, preferably in paper format, or at least as PDF or e-book are held regularly.

Librarians will introduce the canon by visiting the school and presenting ‘digital teaching boxes’, which include themes, related websites and deep links plus information from relevant museum. These are additional services of the virtual school library, also maintained by the association: www.schoolbieb.nl. A new reading aloud competition among schools is another feature of reading promotion among teachers. The Netherlands has a 15 year old tradition of the Reading Aloud Contest for children, with local, regional rounds, and a final competition on television: www.denationalevoorleeswedstrijd.nl.

Reading promotion networks

The Nordic provinces: Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe, have been successful in initiating reading promotion networks to work on reading promotion efficiently and effectively. The regional library service organisation trains library staff to be part of the local youth and educational policies, and sit around the table with municipalities, school directors, in order to explain and offer related library and reading services for primary education. Plans are underway to extend the network model to relations with early childhood institutions and with secondary education. National publications (‘pleasure in reading is priority’) and pilots are now supporting the distribution of the model in the rest of the Netherlands.

Established national reading promotion activities

The aforementioned reading promotion activities come on top of a number of longstanding events, such as the Children’s Jury, and Young Jury, the National Reading Aloud Days, the National Reading Programme and the famous Children’s Book Week. See short descriptions on www.debibliotheken. nl/english. Reading clubs are popular in a number of provinces and have professional support from the provincial library service organisations.

Initiatives of recent date include programmes for the general public, and especially the programme: The Netherlands Read (www.cpnb.nl/nll/site); A short film (on Youtube) encourages the libraries to participate in the campaign:
http://www.debibliotheken.nl/content. jsp?objectid=24439.

It would be wonderful to work towards a chain of national reading campaigns throughout Europe, so that finally we can say and prove: Europe reads (in the libraries!)

The general trends in Dutch reading promotion are:
- Local initiatives are valued and can reach ‘national status’
- National programmes provide quality promotional material and media attention
- Flexibility in local implementation of programmes: some event dates are fixed, others follow the local agenda
- Partnerships with the associations of publishers and booksellers for promotions and large campaigns
- Reading for pleasure as a distinctive task for public libraries, apart from their supportive task to schools and education
- Increased intensive school contacts for closely following the school curriculum with reading activities.

The best promotion remains authentic reading models: parents, teachers, librarians, doctors, football players and of course politicians!

Marian Koren
Netherlands Public Library Association

Netherlands Public Library Association