Open the gates to all children!

We have strived to arouse teens’ interest in reading in a number of ways

In recent years, the Seinäjoki Public Library – Provincial Library has focused on augmenting the reading interests of children and youth in particular through various projects and experiments, in addition to its normal library activities geared to-wards these age groups. The idea has been to ensure that the gates into the world of literature and stories are open to children of all ages.

Something for the wee ones

Our library has traditionally had much to offer children under school age. Storytelling sessions are organized at nearly every location, book packages of various topics are put together for daycare centrers and child caretakers, and preschool children have their own literature diploma and can take adventurous tours around the library.

From time to time, though, we have received feedback from child caretakers for whom visiting the library with children is difficult. “Organize something for us!” “It’s difficult for us to come to the library.”

And so we did. The idea of the Satulaan (“Into Fairyland”) project was simple: we hired a storyteller who was a theater professional. We contacted the supervisors of the child caretakers and offered to hold storytelling sessions at the homes of the caretakers. When the storytelling session was over, the care-taker was given the opportunity to borrow the Satulaan book bag, which contained material for holding five different storytelling sessions. The bags contained books and other things such as music instruments, puppets, texture pillows, play parachute, etc. There were books on five different topics: life on a farm, family, friendships, feelings and seasons. The topics were chosen together with daycare professionals.

The Satulaan project was a success. However, some of the child caretakers did not want the storyteller to come to their home. Therefore, a large group gathered together at the home of another caretaker. The children truly enjoyed the sessions, and the drama professional was able to enliven the stories in a suitable way. What’s more, I received a pleasant feedback letter:

“What a great time, an absolutely wonderful idea! It feels extremely good to see that children in home daycare are also able to enjoy cultural events. This is really customized culture!”

Something for children in elementary school

The main library had a stroke of luck a couple of years ago when a librarian with qualifications in special education began working in the children’s department. I was very pleased because for some time I had been worried about what the library could offer children who have difficulties in reading. How would the library be able to lower the threshold and open the gates to the world of stories to those who read at a slower pace?

We began working with the local elementary school. We organized a reading club that would meet once a week. The school’s special education teacher notified those children, especially, whose reading skills had not de-veloped at the normal pace, about the club.

There were two clubs during the first school year and one during the second. The clubs were oriented for children in grades one to three. The basis for the clubs was to offer the children the opportunity to enter the world of stories and provide them with reading adventures. The club was not meant to be school-like; rather, it had to be playful, enjoyable and encouraging for the children.

The basis of the activities was reading. The leader of the club was special education teacher and librarian Sirpa Rintamäki who read aloud to the children, or sometimes the children wanted to read themselves. The children in the club were also able to choose books to be read based on a presentation of the books. They were allowed to draw and colour while they listened to the stories, and they were able to discuss the events in the stories and the thoughts they had provoked during the course of the storytelling.

In addition to the storytelling, there were also other types of activities for the children to do in the club, such as crosswords, board games, reading comprehension activities, rhyming activities, glance reading, short jokes and writing their own stories. Of course each time the children were given tokens and stickers for participation, and material was gathered into the club book. The children were also allowed to borrow books and take them home.

An average of just five children attended the clubs, but they were extremely enthusiastic. Special education teacher, Marja-Riitta Hangasluoma says, “The club was a really good thing! I received a lot of feedback from the parents who appreciated the club. The children were enthusiastic about going to the club, they talked about it at home, and started to go to the library more often.” She is especially pleased with the fact that boys also attended the club.

The reading club therefore succeeded in its purpose: the children’s attitude towards books and reading improved and their motivation increased. We intend to have the club in one way or another in the future and to refine the idea a bit further to make it easy for other libraries to get involved.

Something for teens

We have strived to arouse teens’ in-terest in reading in a number of ways in our library. One of the ways inclu-ded holding evening events in the library to present the various types of materials available to young people. Also, the Kirjasto goes lähiö (“The Li-brary goes Suburbs”) project was intended for teens aged 13-16. The project endeavoured to seize the challenge in many suburbs where there are no libraries and few other opportunities for hobbies.

The project was carried out in four different suburbs in close collaboration with the city’s youth activities department. It involved various types of workshops, some of which took place in the facilities of the department. The teens were given the opportunity to vote on which topics they wished to have in the workshops. The main idea was that the workshops should be associated with some area of the library and its material.

The project taught us that sometimes working with teens can be challenging. They did not actively participate in the voting, and we did not receive many pre-registrations for the workshops. But, in some workshops, quite a few teens would suddenly show up – de-pending on how they felt at that moment and perhaps some had heard about the workshops through the grapevine.

Of the workshops that were held, the movie workshop was held three times. Participants in the graffiti workshop drew graffiti for the music department at the Nurmo library. Three workshops focused on music: a song workshop, a lyrics workshop and a songs-around-the-world workshop. The Culture Lab focused on storytelling, and the participants made their own short film and practiced putting on theatrical make-up.

From the perspective of the library, the best thing about the project was the close collaboration with the city’s youth activities department – we learned about the ways they work and they learned about ours, and we were able to create a good network.

What else?

We intend to invest in the reading skills of children and teens in Seinäjoki in the future as well. A project pertaining to digital stories intended for special needs children is starting, and a re-gional reading project is also being planned.

We cannot, however, forget the library’s normal functions, quality collections, opening hours, skilled personnel, book recommendation lists and selection catalogues, collaboration with schools, book exhibitions and various reading series for schools, which all are indeed important. The main library has just opened its doors in new premises, which have been designed especially to lure in children and teens. Just yesterday, I answered a question: “How is it that you have so many more enticing children’s books nowadays?”

I answered, “Actually, the books have not really increased in quantity; they’re just better displayed.”

Director of libraries, Seinäjoki