This week’s post comes from Book Aid International. Book Aid International is the UK’s leading international book donation and library development charity.

Speaking up for reading

At Book Aid International, we know that books and the services that libraries offer can be truly transformative for people and communities. In 2018 alone, we shipped over 1.28 million new books to more than 90 organisations in 25 countries across the world. Those books reached thousands of communities where people have very few opportunities to access books and read.

We also know that the power of books will never properly impact a community without people first being made aware of the difference that reading can make to their lives.

That’s why as part of many of the programmes we run with libraries across the world, we include a grant for an event to promote the library and reading in the way they think would impact their local context best. While format and exact content of these events may vary, there are some common elements which tend to make reading promotion events a success.

Looking at what has worked for our library partners across the world, here are some hints and tips for holding your own reading promotion event.

The scene is set for the Tanzania Library Services Board’s International Literacy Day celebrations

1. Choose your location with care

You will need a space that is large enough to fit around 100 people (or more). If your space is outside, think about a plan B in case of bad weather and make sure books you have on display are protected from rain and wind. Also, think about how accessible your space is – can people with disabilities use the space? Consider choosing somewhere that is central or busy so that passers-by can join in the fun too.

Some of our library partners choose to use their headquarters for such events as they are central and large. Others use events as an opportunity to take reading out into the community. In Kenya, our partner the Kenya National Library Service focused its International Literacy Day celebrations on Kwale branch library which is situated in a County that has the second highest rate of poverty in the country and a large percentage of school drop outs. The event was a great opportunity to promote reading and the library as a means of learning outside of formal education.

2. Reach out to different people

Invite people from all areas of your community. Invitees could represent groups of teachers, head-teachers, local medical staff, parents, students, members of district education committees and academics from local universities.

Create promotional posters to inform people about the event and inspire them to come along. Visit different groups in person and encourage them to attend. Your local radio station or newspaper might also be able to help you promote the event and if you have Facebook or Twitter accounts for your library, be sure to use those channels to spread the word about the event too.

In Cameroon, our partner’s International Literacy Day celebrations in Yaoude were attended by local press and media, local NGOs, members of parliament and Ministry of Education as well as local primary and secondary schools. Many people were introduced to the library for the first time, including this primary school pupil who had this to say to the library staff:

“Aunty, I like your library and I would like to come here and read after school. Can I?

Kenya National Library Services’ International Literacy Day celebrations included a ‘literacy procession’

3. Invite motivational speakers

Inviting key community leaders and other people of interest to speak at your event will inspire people and show them more about the value of reading and the power of books. Ministers working within the district ministry of education, the head of the library service and local authors or celebrities are all figures that can offer inspiration to people by sharing personal stories of how books have helped them in their careers.

In Zimbabwe, local community elders were invited to share their experience of how reading and literacy had enabled them to change their lives and the lives of their families for the better Share on X

In Zimbabwe, local community elders were invited to share their experience of how reading and literacy had enabled them to change their lives and the lives of their families for the better:

“Being literate is important for everyone, young and old. In this fast-changing world, being illiterate will make you lose out on a lot of things – even being in touch with the larger outside world.” – Mrs Mathe.

4. Run engaging events

In addition to inviting inspiring people to speak, planning and implementing a variety of other engaging activities is also important. Try to arrange activities that suit multiple ages such as young children, teenagers and adults. Remember that books and reading should be at the heart of your activities. Ideas include storytelling, read-alouds, acting out a story and finding a specific book among the library shelves. If the venue you use is close to your library, include a library tour in your activities. This is a great opportunity to showcase the books and services you have on offer.

In Rwanda, our partner Grace Rwanda’s International Literacy Day event at Ineza Children’s Corner included a dance performance and a football match!

Rwanda Dance
Grace Rwanda’s International Literacy Day celebrations included a dance performance

5. Motivation and rewards

A bit of friendly competition can help motivate the attendees to take part in reading activities. Prizes for the most dedicated reader, the fastest reader or the best read-aloud can be very useful in getting people to participate. These prizes could act as positive reinforcement for those who participate in reading activities and demonstrate a particular enthusiasm and dedication to reading.

6. Involve the media

Inviting representatives from local newspapers and radio stations will help boost the publicity of your event and help to spread the message of reading and its value to other communities. This will help to expand the reach of the library and promote its resources and services to a wider range of potential users.

We hope you find these tips helpful and that your own reading promotion events will see new sections of your communities engaging with books, reading and library services.

Prize winners in Cameroon
Prize winners in Cameroon

On Thursday  14th March, Book Aid International is taking part in a seminar at London Book Fair, alongside Cheltenham Festivals and the Royal Commonwealth Society discussing the difference that reading for pleasure can make in disadvantaged communities – and how to go about raising the profile of reading. Find out more here.

We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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