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Increased reading and literacy: how libraries deliver

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Case study, Good practice, Outcome: literacy, Taskforce


This is the first in a series of posts in which we aim to explore the outcomes that libraries support individuals and communities in their area to achieve. As was stated in the post which introduced the new libraries minister, he is keen to ensure that libraries are recognised for the value they add, and laid out a series of areas where libraries do just that:

  • stronger, more resilient communities
  • enhanced reading and literacy
  • increased digital literacy and access
  • helping everyone achieve their full potential
  • healthier and happier lives
  • increased prosperity
  • cultural and creative enrichment

Over the next 7 weeks, we will publish a series which takes each outcome in turn, and highlights some of the diverse activity going on around the country. We will point to material we or others have published in the past, and showcase some new projects. In some cases, we’ll publish an introduction, then follow up with more examples during the week that follows.

The first outcome we are going to focus on is…..

Increased reading and literacy

We know that reading and literacy are two of the most fundamental life skills, and this is possibly one of the most obvious things people think of when they picture a library - a place where you have access to books and which is dedicated to encouraging the love of reading. Libraries don't care who you are or where you come from - they give everyone free access to books, regardless of age, disability, wealth or education.

Reading for pleasure is important. Research suggests that both children and adults who read are healthier, happier and more confident than those who don’t. Libraries encourage reading by running reading programmes, hosting book clubs and by providing advice to help people extend and develop their reading choices.

Below is the icon we have created to symbolise this outcome. To make it easier to spot related content, you’ll start to see this on material produced by the Libraries Taskforce that relates to work being done that supports this outcome and, as it’s freely available to download from this folder, perhaps in other places too?

Reading icon
Reading icon

Universal Reading Offer

The Society of Chief Librarians, in partnership with The Reading Agency, have created a Universal Reading Offer: “a strategic planning framework which enables libraries to develop, deliver and promote reading services. It builds on public demand for a lively and engaging reading offer with reading groups, challenges, promotions and author events. It aims to focus libraries’ attention and efforts on promoting key shared reading programmes. It is supported by the reading calendar, a toolbox of reading programmes and a raft of national partnerships.”

Read more about this offer on the SCL website.

Summer Reading Challenge

One of the best known reading related events that is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of children every year is the Summer Reading Challenge. This year, the Challenge is called the Big Friendly Read and is delivered in collaboration with The Roald Dahl Literary Estate to celebrate the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth. Children are encouraged to sign up and read 6 books over the summer holidays, and those who complete the challenge receive a certificate and a medal at the end. In a parallel programme, young people are encouraged to take part in a volunteering programme, part of Reading Hack (see below), where they work in libraries to sign children up and help with summer activities.

Big Friendly Read display in Chatham library. Photo credit: Libraries Taskforce/Julia Chandler
Big Friendly Read display in Chatham library. Photo credit: Libraries Taskforce/Julia Chandler

The Challenge is run by The Reading Agency, in partnership with the SCL, and last year, 787,000 children took part. This evaluation of the Challenge, done in 2009 by The UK Literacy Association showed a wide range of benefits, both as felt by the children themselves, and as judged by their teachers.

More examples of reading related activity

Book clubs and reading groups
Libraries run a wide range of reading groups, including staff reading groups, multi-cultural groups, father and son groups, thematic reading groups and young mothers' groups. We met a group of researchers who are looking at how library services are developing their work with reading groups. They shared their findings so far in a blog post, and promised to come back and tell us more once their work was complete.

This year, the BBC are mid-way through a year of focusing on books and reading: #LovetoRead. Stephen James-Yeoman wrote a blog post for us recently where he shared what has happened so far and their plans for the culmination of the season - the #LovetoRead weekend on 5 and 6 November when the BBC and partners will invite everyone, everywhere to read something new.

Reading Hack
Many libraries are now organising creative activities for 13-24 year olds through The Reading Agency’s Reading Hack programme. Suffolk libraries blogged about their experience of running a group.

Reading Dogs
An unlikely (at first) sounding project was discovered by Ian Anstice, who published a piece about reading dogs in public libraries in Public Library News. The main focus here is Lincolnshire, but he also lists 5 other projects and wonders if there are more...

Heads up: later this week

We’ve talked above about the Summer Reading Challenge for children. Look out for a post later this week on adult reading challenges, which may not as ubiquitous, but are taking place across the country. We’ll also highlight the Publishers Association’s Reading Ambassadors scheme.

What next?

To make sure you catch all the articles in this series, subscribe to our blogs via the signup box in the right hand panel. And if you know of any projects which also illustrate this outcome, please let us know - either by telling us about it in the comments below, or email us at and and we’ll work out whether it might make a future blog post or case study.

Next week we’ll share examples of how libraries contribute to cultural and creative enrichment.

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  1. Comment by Tony Brown posted on

    We'll be launching our Islington Reads strategy 2016-2019 and supporting website next month!

  2. Comment by samuel asare bediako posted on

    i work work in a university library in ghana n fascinated by the wonderful work u are doing for 3rd world countries.

  3. Comment by Tanya Milligan posted on

    I am a librarian working with a Young Offenders Institute - the library is central to encourage reading and literacy. These young people have often come from environments in which reading was not modeled or encouraged and our library can make a huge difference to users' attitudes to books and reading. Every new offender comes up to the library a couple of times during their first week and we run various reading projects, for example Reading Ahead (previously the Six Book Challenge) and reading groups. This year we will be running Bookweek Scotland inside for the first time, with author visits and other events.