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Roll up! Roll up! Circus Stars make an entrance at this year’s Summer Reading Challenge launch…

Capita was proud to be invited to the launch of this year’s Summer Reading Challenge at the House of Commons, which this year has the theme ‘Circus Stars’.

The Summer Reading Challenge which is run by independent charity The Reading Agency, along with libraries across the UK, is the biggest and most successful reading promotion for 4-11 year olds, encouraging all children who take part to read at least 6 books over the summer holiday.

The event was bustling with some of the nation’s best loved authors, along with MPs, councillors, publishing industry figures, librarians and library campaigners.

As Miranda McKearney, Director of the Reading Agency explained, this year’s challenge will be the biggest ever, with 97% of local authorities and 3000 young volunteers taking part. Miranda made the point that libraries are in the serious business of making reading fun and the sad fact is that only 40% of children enjoy reading. Research carried out by the UK Literacy Association shows that participating in the Summer Reading Challenge combats the ‘summer holiday dip’ in pupils’ reading motivation and attainment, and boosts their desire to read at home.

Greta Paterson, Head of Children and Young People Services at East Sussex County Council, told me “It’s a fantastic way to connect with young readers, it gets library staff into schools and we see children in the library that we perhaps wouldn’t see otherwise.” The enthusiasm and energy of the people that are directly involved with making the Summer Reading Challenge a success was apparent, as was the mood of optimism and determination despite the tough financial times some library services are facing at the moment.

Voicing his support for the event, Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools described the Challenge as a “pivotal part of the educational reform” that the government is undertaking and revealed that 1 in 5 eleven year olds currently leave primary school without being able to read. He pledged that every child should be able to read by the age of six, a goal which the government has started to work towards.

A highlight of the event was a few words from acclaimed children’s author and Patron of the Summer Reading Challenge, Michael Rosen. He talked enthusiastically about the value of libraries,  which he described as “a treasure trove of the world’s wisdom, there for free”. He also stressed the importance of what he termed “book learning”, even in (or especially in) this age of the internet.

And if the future success of the Summer Reading Challenge wasn’t already in the bag, Ruth Mackenzie, Director of the Cultural Olympiad, announced that The Reading Agency have been selected to be part of the London 2012 Festival. The Reading Agency will be working with libraries all over the UK to stage a huge reading extravaganza and to, as Ruth put it, sprinkle some “Olympic magic dust in every library”. Sounds good to us.

Joy Court talks with Talis to review the Summer Reading Challenge

This podcast was recorded at Walsgrave Church of England Primary School to review this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. Joy Court, who works in Coventry City Council’s Children, Learning & Young People’s Directorate as Learning Resources Manager and has responsibility for the city’s school library service. Joy is also involved with The Reading Agency and Summer Reading Challenge at national level. Joy talks about the importance of connecting schools with public libraries, and her role promoting the Challenge to schools, particularly those that have not been involved before. She outlines the preparations that are made both in schools and across the public library service for the Challenge to make it as attractive to children as possible. This year Coventry successfully piloted the participation of teenage volunteers, many of whom made themselves available to talk to children about the books in public libraries. Coventry will be extending this across the city next year as it proved immensely popular with children. We discuss how this year’s Space Hop theme was selected and the website that amplified the theme with interactive features and games. This year 59,000 people registered on the website. We also discuss Joy’s involvement with other areas of The Reading Agency work, and how initiatives such as Chatterbooks feed into the success of the Summer Reading Challenge. Finally we talk about the ongoing importance of the library as a place.

Bryony Harrison and pupils talk with Talis to review the Summer Reading Challenge

These podcasts were recorded at Walsgrave Church of England Primary School to review this year’s Summer Reading Challenge.

In the first podcast, Primary Teacher and Literacy Coordinator Bryony Harrison talks about how the Summer Reading Challenge ties in with her work in the school promoting literacy and fostering a love of reading and writing. Bryony reveals how she makes an impact on children’s reading habits, building up their enjoyment of books and reading. She describes the experience her pupils shared of the Summer Reading Challenge at Walsgrave Church of England Primary School this year, with promotional activities over the summer term, including visits to the local library and a partnership wtih the local Showcase Cinema who run a Bookworm Wednesdays programme over the summer holidays.

In the second podcast, three pupils from Walsgrave Church of England Primary School talk about their own successful experiences of the Summer Reading Challenge. Finn and Abby aged 10, and Dawson aged 11 (left to right on the photo above) discuss the this year’s theme – Space Hop – and its website, the school’s preparations for the Challenge, and the books they read.

Kim Docking talks with Talis to review the Summer Reading Challenge

This podcast was recorded at Walsgrave Church of England Primary School to review this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. The Head Teacher Kim Docking talks about how participation in the Challenge has gradually increased over the past two years as teachers and children alike have shared their enthusiasm across the school. The school serves a socially-mixed area, and for this summer, Kim was keen to involve those children who have no exposure to reading over the summer holidays and whose performance slides downwards at this time. So for Walsgrave Church of England Primary School, the strategic importance of the Summer Reading Challenge is about continuing to narrow gaps and ensure that all children enjoy equality of opportunity. Kim is confident that the Challenge has promoted awareness of the library service and has encouraged children to read and enjoy reading. By positioning the Challenge as an integral part of broader literacy initiatves and a thematic curriculum, the school is ensuring that its Summer Reading Challenge gains are sustainable.

Fiona MacDonald talks with Talis at the Summer Reading Challenge launch

In this podcast, Sarah Bartlett talks with Fiona MacDonald, Head of Library and Education Services at Walker Books at the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge 2010 at the House of Commons. Fiona describes how she, as a publisher involved in the Challenge, works in partnership with The Reading Agency on the selection of titles. Fiona values the wonderful exposure that the Challenge gives to books and authors, particularly the tendency to select less obvious titles, promoting new authors and illustrators. She relates how publishers work with public library services before and during the Summer Reading Challenge, and emphasises how happy authors are to be selected, and to participate in complementary events in libraries with children. Fiona sees the future of the book as being one of the mixed economy, affirming that the physical book will survive the digital revolution.

Helen Boothroyd talks with Talis at the Summer Reading Challenge launch

In this podcast, Sarah Bartlett talks with Helen Boothroyd, representing the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians at the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge 2010 at the House of Commons. At Suffolk libraries, Helen and her colleagues enjoyed their most successful ever Summer Reading Challenge last year, and we discuss the ongoing growth of the Challenge nationally, and some of the more personal outcomes including testimonies from parents and teachers on the difference that participation can make to the maintenance and development of reading skills over the summer holidays, as well as the joy of reading and discovery of new authors. She takes us through the planning and delivery of the Summer Reading Challenge in a public library service (97% of which are involved across the UK) and how it involves key personnel across the council. We also talk about shifts in formats – with preferences for electronic materials being surprisingly unpronounced to date for children up to the age of 12-13, the cut-off point of the Challenge. Helen is constantly working at new ways of engaging with schools and promotional activities generally, and describes Suffolk Libraries’ successes at building relationships with schools through the Summer Reading Challenge.

Miranda McKearney talks with Talis at the Summer Reading Challenge launch

In this podcast, Sarah Bartlett talks with Miranda McKearney, the Founder Director of The Reading Agency at the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge 2010 at The House of Commons. The Summer Reading Challenge is underpinned by a strong belief in the public library ethos and the ideal of equal access to reading opportunities. In the podcast we discuss the origins of the Summer Reading Challenge, The Reading Agency’s biggest and most successful model of reader development. Miranda explains how the agency arrives at a compelling reading theme every year that will engage children and facilitate a broad range of partnerships. This year’s theme, Space Hop, will enable libraries and schools to partner with the scientific domain, and is also designed to encourage boys to read. Miranda discusses other important hard-to-reach groups of children, emphasising that priorities will vary locally. Ultimately, the success of the Challenge depends on the school – librarian partnership, and Miranda emphasises how important it is for schools to recognise the importance of reading for pleasure. Miranda outlines the proven positive outcomes of involvement in the Challenge in terms of reading attainment and motivation levels. Finally we discuss the prospects of ongoing funding for the Summer Challenge.

Ed Vaizey pays homage to the Summer Reading Challenge at this year’s launch

As co-sponsors of this year’s Summer Reading Challenge, a number of us here at Talis made our way to the House of Commons yesterday for the launch event. The Summer Reading Challenge is one of those initiatives that everyone loves, and it’s a privilege for Talis to be associated with something that has such broad and valuable outcomes.

In case you’re not aware of it, and as Miranda McKearney, Director of The Reading Agency, explained in the main address, The Summer Challenge is essentially very simple – children across the UK are challenged to read six books over the summer holidays. In what was a clarion call for the retention of reader development activities in public libraries in the current cost-cutting climate, Miranda emphasised the research that has repeatedly demonstrated tangible outcomes of the Challenge in terms of the reading levels, range and motivations of the increasing numbers of 4-11 year olds who take part every year.

Whilst Ed Vaizey, Minister of Culture, made ideological overtures about the Big Society flavour of the Summer Reading Challenge, he was clearly deeply impressed with its successes, as were all the speakers at the event. Around 750,000 children took part last year, and of these, 413,000 completed the challenge, involving 95% of libraries, and resulting in 47,000 new library members. And in case you’re wondering, there were 20 million loans of children’s materials, and 3 million books read as direct outcomes of the challenge.

To complement this quantitative view, his colleague Don Foster from the Liberal Democrat party testified that the reading habits of his then-8 year old grandson were transformed by the Challenge last year, and he is now the kind of boy who reads after bedtime with a torch under the covers, to the astonishment of his parents who had been deeply concerned about his disinclination to read.

On a more sobering note, Alan Davey from The Arts Council reminded us that beneath the statistic that 60% of the population read regularly for pleasure, lies a less comfortable reality that 40% of us don’t. As a long-term supporter of The Reading Agency, he concurs that encouraging the young to read is crucial.

Anne Sarrag from The Reading Agency took us back to the inception of The Summer Reading Challenge 11 years ago, round Miranda’s kitchen table, as the legend goes. Anne affirmed that children’s libraries are integral to The Summer Reading Challenge, which really operates as a big team, with The Reading Agency as a catalyst, and librarians customising it and prioritising partnerships to local needs. Its relationship to Big Society becomes clear at this point, and is driven home further by a wave of volunteer effort entering the Challenge this year as large numbers of young adults apply to volunteer in libraries over the summer holidays to encourage children’s reading. Many of them, according to Anne, took part themselves when they were younger, which is testament to the power of the Challenge.

Recently in CILIP Gazette, a French public librarian working on placement here praised the range of reader development initiatives in which British public libraries engage. The Summer Reading Challenge is a piece of good news that just gets better and better, as its participation rates improve every year, and its significance is validated by research such as the OECD Reading For Change report, cited by Anne, which demonstrates that reading for pleasure is essential to children’s life chances. And I’m sure we can all agree that it’s everyone’s responsibility to encourage reading – not just schools’ – in a fun and enjoyable way. Its fundamental objective, as Anne pointed out, is to give libraries and teachers the book knowledge, confidence and understanding of implementing initiatives and learning opportunities to develop young readers. Specifically, it helps to reduce what has become known as the “summer reading dip”, a common phenomenon in which emergent readers return to school in September, having lost the input of the school over the holidays, and struggle to regain their previous level of attainment.

Talis is proud to be supporting The Summer Reading Challenge, which builds both enjoyment of reading and a relationship with libraries. For many of us, it’s the embodiment of librarianship and the reason why we originally entered the profession. Long may it thrive.

Find out more….

These podcasts were recorded at the event and offer further insights:

Free to contribute. Free to discover. So can I have one, please?

In a post earlier today, my colleague Ian Corns talked about his experiences at the first of the Resource Sharing Roadshows we’re running in various cities over the next few weeks. I haven’t done mine yet, but look forward to the conversations in Newcastle and Leeds (two of my favourite English cities) on the 7th and 9th of next month.

Through the events, we’re talking to librarians across these islands about some of the changes made possible as we come to the end of our contract with The Combined Regions to build and run a ‘traditional’ resource sharing system called UnityWeb on their behalf. These messages are certainly resonating here, and many of them are equally applicable to readers of this blog from across the water.

One quick point is worth reiterating, for our UK and Irish readers at least, before I go any further. We are coming to the end of our contract to run UnityWeb. As you will know, TCR are in the process of selecting another organisation to begin the job of building, testing and deploying a different service in its place. They may, or may not, choose to call that as yet unbuilt service ‘UnityWeb’.

Whether they do or not, we will no longer be using the UnityWeb name. We will, however, continue to offer the service that you currently know as UnityWeb. We will continue to offer this service after the current contract ends, and we will continue to offer the same robust and familiar service that you have known for years whilst evolving its functionality in some of the new directions outlined, below. UnityWeb has been a valuable service over the years, and Talis and The Combined Regions have both learned much from its creation and operation. The end of the current contract frees us to act upon much of the knowledge and experience we have gained through working with all of the contributors, and spurs innovation in a variety of ways that will deliver real benefits both to current UnityWeb subscribers and to a host of potential new beneficiaries.

And now, back to the more general points.

In the environment in which libraries now find themselves, we believe a number of things to be true:

  • Data about the books and other items held by a library belong to that library, and they should be free to do with it as they see fit
  • Libraries should be able to contribute information about those holdings to any number of places, in order to raise awareness of their stock, and facilitate processes whereby stock unavailable in one institution may be lent by another – the Inter Library Loan
  • Libraries should be able to discover information about items held in other libraries
  • Other people should be able to discover simple information about items held in libraries
  • Information about items held in libraries should be offered in such a way that it may be integrated with information about similar items from very different providers (Amazon, say)
  • There is immensely greater value for all concerned in having information about 100% of libraries rather than 95%; ubiquity of offer is a powerful thing when it comes to offering information from and about libraries to other types of organisation
  • It should be free for any library, anywhere, to contribute information about the items that they hold
  • It should be free for anyone, anywhere, to discover basic information about the items that a library holds.

Ian made those last two points, too, as did another colleague of mine in a post to a public library mailing list here. It seems obvious, but Ian describes the surprise with which the idea has been received amongst the audiences he’s spoken to. I’ve seen that, too. Closely followed by the “A Ha” moment as they realise how much sense it makes, and all that it makes possible.

In the long run, of course, the fact that any person, anywhere, can see that a library has a book raises the rather obvious question as to why the poor individual can’t then borrow that book unless they happen to live in the same administrative area as the library. We’ve discussed that issue a few times here, most completely in this post by Ken Chad, and it also came up a lot yesterday in the Talis Research Day that Richard mentioned in his latest Whisper post.

There are plenty of perfectly valid reasons why a library in Stornoway or London or Aberystwyth or Birmingham might not consider it practical to provide me with a book today, other than via the existing Inter Library Loan process. Many, if not all, of those reasons are addressable, and we’re working with anyone who’s interested to explore ways in which these barriers to use can be demolished or circumvented. Until that’s done, we need to manage some of the expectations that a demonstrator like Whisper might raise, whilst capitalising upon the real benefits that it already delivers.

Are you on the map? Talk to us about the growing number of ways in which we might take information about the holdings in your library, with as little effort on your part as we can reasonably achieve. Let us show you, through demonstrations like Whisper, what becomes possible. Work with us, to build upon the lessons of UnityWeb and create something better. Something open. Something valuable. Something useful to the widest possible constituency. Something shared.

For customers of the existing UnityWeb service, we are running these roadshows, and we are also reaching out to you in a number of other ways in order to explain the continuity of service that we intend to offer. If you have any queries, talk to us. For everyone else, please just think about what it might mean to be able to easily and freely contribute your holdings data. What uses can you begin to conceptualise for such a comprehensive resource? Be found. Be on the map.

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