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An introduction to school librarianship
An introduction to school librarianship

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1 Promoting reading for pleasure

There is a plethora of research demonstrating the countless benefits of reading. Studies have shown, for example, that book ownership can reduce stress and have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing (Yulia et al., 2021). Reading has also been linked to the development of empathy and plays a key role in the personal development of children and teenagers (Wilkinson et al., 2020). A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also found that fifteen-year-old students from lower socio-economic backgrounds who read frequently scored significantly higher on reading-literacy tests than peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds who had little interest in reading (OECD, 2002). In short, when it comes to educational success, the OECD’s findings tell us that reading gives students the opportunity to transcend their socio-economic background.

A male student reading a book in a library. A female student is in the foreground holding multiple books

For many students, a love of reading will most likely stem from engagement with fiction. A report on children’s reading choices by The Open University found that 74% of children between the ages of 8 and 11 in UK reported reading fiction compared with just 30% who reported reading non-fiction (Cremin and Coles, 2022). This finding is consistent with survey data amongst older readers, both in the UK and abroad: for example, the Reading Agency reported that 7 in 10 18–24-year-olds in the UK prefer reading fiction (Reading Agency, 2020) whilst a study of university students in Malaysia found that 68% preferred reading fiction compared to just 32% who preferred reading non-fiction (Yusof, 2021). It follows, therefore, that to foster a reading-rich culture where students are instilled with a positive and enthusiastic attitude to reading, a great starting point is encouraging students to read fiction.

Many of the main approaches you can adopt will rely heavily on an element of marketing. For example, it is important to raise awareness of your collection within the library itself, as students will be more predisposed to pick up a book that piques their curiosity if they’re already in the building than if they have to seek it out from the other side of the school. To increase the likelihood that they find such a book, you can use posters, leaflets, wall displays and tables displaying books dedicated to different genres – similar to what you might find in a book shop. Labelling books with stickers identifying the genre can be another helpful way of encouraging students to pick up a book and read by signposting them to what interests them.

You should not, however, focus all your efforts within the walls of the library alone; it is also essential to take your library ‘out of the library’ where you can reach a wider audience and engage with those who visit infrequently or not at all. In addition to posters, displays and networked TV screens around the school, you can also maintain a profile in pupil and staff bulletins, school newsletters, and on your school’s website and social media. The more you make your library’s presence known, the better you can champion literacy. In the video below, Nick gives some examples of how to promote what you are doing in the library, around the school.

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Video 1
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As we saw in the video, themes and events such as weeks focusing on a specific genre or topic can help to engage students by piquing their curiosity. For example, you may wish to follow Nick’s lead and host a ‘banned books week’ where students are encouraged to read books that have been banned or censored at some point in their history. These could include anything from Brave New World and Oliver Twist to Nineteen Eighty-Four and Frankenstein. Not only is the idea of banned knowledge inherently appealing, but it also encourages students to think about the changing nature of attitudes and morals.

Now you have heard how Nick promotes reading for pleasure in and beyond his library, you should reflect on the approach you take in your own library in Activity 1. Then, in the next section, you will explore some of the other strategies you can employ to encourage good reading habits and engagement with your library’s offering amongst reluctant readers.

Activity 1

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Note down the ways in which you promote reading for pleasure at present, and also some examples of what you plan to do in the future.

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When considering your future plans for promoting reading pleasure, it helps to consider the impact of your endeavours. For example, following an event or promotion, some of the things you can look out for are increases in visitors to your library, in books borrowed, and requests made. This will help you to identify which of your strategies are best for promoting reading for pleasure.