Libraries inspire immigrants to read

The public libraries in the cities of Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger and Kristiansand are cooperating on the three-year project Desire to read, language and ICT, which targets immigrants. The project was launched in the autumn of 2011, and is a continuation of the one-year project Desire to read and language skills.

Our experience from these projects indicates that good initiatives for immigrants often take place in cooperation with other agencies, such as the official Norwegian language training programme for immigrants and/or NGOs and volunteers. We have also seen that instruments other than just the written word, such as films and outings/excursions may help promote language skills and stimulate the desire to read.

The Norwegian language training programme

Immigrants who come to Norway are enrolled in a Norwegian-language training programme, in which the public libraries in principle are not involved. This training programme is the immigrants’ main source of Norwegian- language skills, and the impact of the programme in terms of acquisition of language skills should not be under-estimated. In Norway, the libraries must relate to the Norwegian language training programme by cooperating closely with the programme or by establishing appropriate follow-up programmes for those who have completed their training period. The Norwegian-language training pro-gramme is the ‘big brother’ in terms of language teaching, although the libraries may play an important role as a trusty and skilful little brother.

The libraries can cooperate with the official Norwegian-language training programme by hosting meetings and training sessions in the library, where the library’s services are announced. This lowers the threshold for use of the library, and will also help the course participants become acquainted with those who work there. This will in turn help promote the desire to read as well as be an aid to improve language pro-ficiency. This model has been tested in all the municipalities that participate in the project.

The local library may function as a meeting place and a locale for networking, where meetings with people from a Norwegian background are included as part of the official training programme. Kristiansand public li-brary has been at the forefront in testing this approach. Here, volunteer retirees meet once a week with young people who are learning Norwegian. Meetings between different cultures and generations have given rise to many close friendships.

Experiences and books – an excellent combination

Communication and art encompass more than just literature and words. The combination of books and cinema has proven to be conducive to the work of Stavanger library. Linking a book to a film which is based on the book has provided readers and spectators with intriguing artistic experiences and much to discuss. The film elaborates on the book, and communicates the content also to those who may have less advanced language skills. It is important to choose a book and a film which are adapted to the age group in question.

All the project libraries have offered supplementary experiences, ranging from boat rides through Skippergada bay outside Kristiansand, excursions to the museums of Oslo and Trondheim and visits to the Refugee Boat in Stavanger, to strolls through Bergen with Gunnar Staalesen, writer of crime novels. Establishing a secure framework and an informal and sociable learning arena is important.

After the completion of the Norwegian language training programme

Many immigrants complete the language training programme without having acquired the desired proficiency in Norwegian. The initial period in a new country, perhaps with a burden of traumatisation, may not be the optimal time to learn a new language. In such a situation, the library may facilitate gatherings for those who have com-pleted the official training programme, gatherings where recently acquired skills can be put to use and refined, and where social contacts can be established. To the unemployed, such opportunities are important to prevent unfortunate social isolation. The Language Café at Saupstad library in Trondheim provides an example of this approach. At this café, the Volunteers’ Centre plays a key role. The Old Oslo district also makes use of this method.

Use the immigrants in the learning process!

During 2012, all the project municipalities have established courses for im-migrants who need to upgrade their computer skills. After completion, the course participants may receive a certificate/diploma. In Kristiansand, the computer courses for immigrant mothers have benefited from a well-established service for childcare.

In Bergen, volunteers who come from an immigrant background and have good computer skills have been in-volved in this type of training through the Laptop Club. In Kristiansand, the library employee who arranges this course is himself a refugee. In both Bergen and Stavanger, writing workshops have been held with City of Refuge writers who have fled their homeland as instructors. We believe that more libraries ought to initiate projects that can help dispel the myth that immigrants are helpless victims. When people from an immigrant background are responsible for train-ing, this will be a natural effect.

Suggestopaedia and dissemination of literature

In Oslo a new method for effective language training, referred to as “sug-gestopaedia”, has been widely used in the discussions of books. Suggestopae-dia emphasises conversation between the course leader and the participants. In these sessions, solutions to a stated problem are suggested, followed by a prolonged discussion. The participants must join actively in the discussion, at times in a chorus of voices. You cannot consider yourself a participant in a suggestopaedia session unless you have voiced an opinion!

Barbro Thorvaldsen, who has worked as a teacher for immigrants and refugees for years, uses this method fre-quently, and has also trained many of the staff members at Oslo’s Deichman library in how to use it.

Reading circles are a suitable tool for dissemination of literature, including for immigrants. In addition to promoting language skills, literature also provides an opportunity to discuss complex issues without anybody having to disclose private matters. Such reading circles are found for example in the Old Oslo district and in Bergen.

Stavanger has established arrangements called Book Chats, involving presentations of success stories among immigrants in Norway. This is yet another active attempt to dispel unfortunate myths. The Book Chats have attracted

a large Norwegian audience. It has proven difficult, however, to achieve open arrangements with an appropriate mix of immigrants and ethnic Norwegians, and this remains a challenge for all the municipalities involved.


The pilot project Desire to read and language skills was evaluated by the participants, the cooperation partners and the participating libraries. This self-evaluation was positive, but no external evaluation agency was linked to the pilot project.

In the project Desire to read, language and ICT, VOX (Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning) have been included as evaluators. They wish to make use of a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, in the form of a survey administered by e-mail targeting the course leaders and a paper-and-pen-based survey among former participants, in addition to group interviews (or individual interviews) with current participants. We will report the evaluation results as soon as they are available, since we wish to contribute practical and theoretical knowledge that can help develop library services adapted to our multicultural society.

Head of Kristiansand public library