Beyond Campaigns and Activities
Reading promotion in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, is done by many different people and organisations, big and small. The main reading promotion organisation is, however, Iedereen Leest (Everybody Reads), (https://www.iedereenleest.be/). It is a non-profit organisation founded by the Flemish government and is funded by Flanders Literature (https://www.flandersliterature.be/).
IBBY Flanders is a part of Iedereen Leest, and forms together with IBBY Belgique francophone the Belgian IBBY Section.
Iedereen Leest connects people and organisations in order to create (local) networks and communities that focus on improving the reading engagement of children, young people and adults in Flanders and Brussels.
In doing so, Iedereen Leest strives to inspire people to read and to read more. It wants to make reading accessible for everybody because being able to read is of absolute importance for personal development and participation in society. Iedereen Leest highlights the crucial role of reading for pleasure in the literacy discourse: it is the key to an inspiring reading climate and a broad reading culture.
It also coordinates campaigns, such as Children’s Book Month (https://www.jeugdboekenmaand.be/), Read Aloud Week (https://www.voorleesweek.be/), Bookstart (https://www.boekstart.be/) and the Children’s Jury (https://www.deleesjury.be/) to make reading more visible, and develops programmes for libraries, schools, child-care centres and other organisations to share methods and ideas to enhance reading engagement.
While enthusiastic and committed teachers, librarians, nursery attendants and parents are, of course, the best promoters of reading, one can imagine, these intermediaries do need (and deserve!) all the support they can get in doing what they do.
I would like to introduce in this article two initiatives of Iedereen Leest that use digital resources to support the crucial work of the intermediaries in two quite different ways.
Boekenzoeker (Book Searcher)
When Iedereen Leest talks about reading pleasure, it is not talking about something non-committal. On the contrary. Reading pleasure strengthens motivation – from liking to wanting to read – so that young people will read more and better. Investing in the reading skills and (literary) competences of young people strengthens their position in today’s knowledge society.
But more often than not, children and young adults find it difficult to find books that suit them. And reading a book that doesn’t suit you is almost guaranteed to create frustration and reluctance.
To tackle this issue, the predecessor of Iedereen Leest started, back in 2004 (www.boekenzoeker.be). In 2020 the website underwent a major glow up, both structurally and visually, with illustrations by Belgian illustrator Eleni Debo.
Boekenzoeker is a curated database and offers reading tips for everyone from 0 to 18 years of age. Children and young people can discover books themselves by choosing categories and themes that interest them. The user can click on age, type (novels, non-fiction, photo books, poems, short stories, etc.), theme (history, science fiction, mourning and loss, nature and environment, sports, health and body, etc.), volume and extra (easy reads, books made into movies, true stories, etc.). Teachers and parents can also consult the site to find, among other things, read-aloud books.
Boekenzoeker is not a review website, nor is it an exhaustive database of all published books. You will find a wide selection of enthusiastic book recommendations, carefully compiled and annotated, at the reading level of the corresponding book and its assumed readers, by an expert editorial team.
While frequent and avid readers are Boekenzoeker’s most regular users, beginning and reluctant readers are also welcome to use the website. For children and young people with reading difficulties (such as dyslexia or a visual impairment) and foreign-language newcomers there is a category ‘easy reads’ and customised booklists. You will also find links to audio books when available, wordless picture books, picture books for older children, graphic novels, comics, etc. There is really something for everyone.
While the website was deliberately kept as simple as possible, with a rather minimalistic structure and style, content-wise it is quite rich. It contains about 5,000 book tips (and an extra 2,500 ‘sleeping’ tips, that can be found only if searched for directly) and every year another 500 recently published books are added.
The recommendations themselves are also chock full of information: not only the predictable bibliographical information and a short description of the content written specifically for Boekenzoeker, but also a short excerpt from the book – this quote illustrates the atmosphere and style. If the book is available in the Flemish library serving persons with print disabilities, you can also listen to a short audio fragment. If you live in Flanders or Brussels, entering your postal code will enable you to check instantly whether the book is present in the catalogue of your local library.
Opening page of Boekenzoeker.be.
Furthermore, tags show in which search categories the book belongs. Clicking on a tag will immediately get you a number of related book tips. If a book is included in a curated list on Boekenzoeker, like ‘Power girls’, ‘Tik Tok books’, ‘Refugees’ or ‘Boy, girl, X’, it will also be shown. Clicking through will allow you to discover the other books in that list.
Below each book tip, you will also be offered extra reading tips. These are chosen mostly by our editorial team because they have a similar style, theme, atmosphere or author.
It is possible to give 1 to 5 stars to express your (lack of) appreciation and also to leave a comment. Comments will be published only after approval by the moderator of the site to avoid hurtful or irrelevant comments.
The book recommendations can be shared with others via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or email, and the site allows users to add the books they want to read to a printable book list. This can also be saved as a PDF or sent by email.
Boekenzoeker is a very labour-intensive program, but it is also quite unique in its purpose and scale – at least in the Dutch speaking area of the world. And that seems to be appreciated, since in 2021 we had 970,000 unique visitors. In that same year, Iedereen Leest started with Boekenzoeker webinars: in eight webinars per school year, Iedereen Leest staff members introduce a varied selection of recent children’s books to help teachers, librarians and parents choose books for children and young adults. These webinars will become a yearly tradition.
Online learning trajectory for multilingual libraries for babies and toddlers
Throughout its discourse, Iedereen Leest advocates a positive attitude towards multilingualism, for example in libraries. But during the implementation of Boekstart, Iedereen Leest realised that to be a multilingual-friendly library, it is not enough to buy a few books in different languages or to organise an occasional multilingual reading hour. Libraries need to adopt a real multilingualism policy – and they need support to do that. While Iedereen Leest does have the knowledge to guide libraries in this quest, it does not have the (wo)manpower to coach each individual library in Flanders or Brussels. We found a solution in the digital world.
In 2019 Iedereen Leest joined Pro-M, a study conducted by KU Leuven, UGent and VUB, the three most important universities in Flanders, on multilingualism in early childhood. As part of this study, Iedereen Leest developed an orientation program for libraries and their staff on multilingualism, parental involvement and diversity in the book offer. This trajectory started from the existing practices of the three participating pilot libraries and ultimately resulted in an online learning path for library professionals on how to build a multilingual library for babies and toddlers that was launched in July 2022.
Babies in boxes. Copyright © 2022 Bibliotheek Heist-op-den-Berg.
The online learning trajectory contains all kinds of information on growing up multilingual and the role the library can play in this, but it also zooms in on some crucial building blocks for a successful policy on multilingualism, such as how to build a multilingual collection for very young children, how to improve the accessibility of your library for (multilingual) families and a range of possible initiatives to stimulate reading pleasure among babies and toddlers who grow up multilingual.
Furthermore, the online learning trajectory talks about six key factors for success: commitment, local collaborations, a structural policy, communication & digitalisation and professionalisation.
A step-by-step plan helps libraries reflect on their attitude towards multilingualism and develop a sustainable action plan towards a multilingual-friendly library.
In this way, each library can develop a comprehensive approach to growing up multilingual – always based on the local current situation.
A first and very important step is the preparation. In this phase libraries should collect as much local demographic and socioeconomic data as possible: what languages are spoken in the municipality, what is their distribution by age group, what do the statistics say about the poverty rate? etc. The online learning trajectory of course points the way to where this government data can be found.
This needs to be done not only to get an idea of the local situation, but also to be able to identify the needs when choosing priority actions.
The second step is a brainstorming session, in which the staff team must determine how the library already responds to the multilingual context, especially at preschool age. In addition, the brainstorming helps to identify local barriers and needs.
The brainstorming will be organised with the whole library team in a practical workshop. All aspects of the library’s operation should be covered (collection, communication, building, etc.).
The result of this brainstorm is a list of possible actions (activities, adjustments, training, etc.), distinguishing between the existing actions that can be optimised and new actions.
Since it won’t be possible, nor would it be necessary, to implement all the ideas that came up during the brainstorm, step 3 is identifying priorities through a priority matrix, and through that selecting a couple of actions that fit the library’s vision and mission.
Then the real work can begin: step 4 is establishing an action plan. Guiding questions like why do we want to do this, who is the target group, which actors are involved in this action, and does the staff need additional training and help to formulate the action plan?
The next step is drawing up a timetable, to decide when which action is going to take place, after which the concrete implementation of all the selected actions takes place. That, however, isn’t the end. Adjusting and evaluating is the last step in the whole process. For this, it is necessary to think about which data have to be monitored and how that can be done, for example a satisfaction survey, lending figures, etc. Adjusting where needed is an important part of success.
All this is explained in detail in the e-learning trajectory, in short videos and informative texts – often with a link to more information both offline and online – and best practices. There are self-corrected quizzes, checklists, templates and to do lists.
Iedereen Leest recommends to allocate at least six days, spread out over at least six weeks, to complete the course. In addition, there should be enough time to reflect and prepare assignments.
Libraries are encouraged to tackle this learning process as a team – at least for certain parts of the process. Two staff members of Iedereen Leest, Geetha and Simon, function as digital coaches, who can be contacted during the course when participating libraries have questions – and who are also open for feedback.
With this online learning pathway – the first but not the last online learning course that Iedereen Leest is launching – we want to encourage many libraries to create a welcoming place for multilingual parents and children. We hope to be able to present excellent results in the foreseeable future.
Eva Devos (1974, Belgium) studied Comparative Cultural Studies, Communication Studies and Library Science. She started working for the National Centre of Children’s Literature in 2000 and has worked since 2006 for the main Flemish reading promotion organisation, Iedereen Leest (Everybody Reads). There she is the librarian of a professional library on children’s literature and reading promotion, and she coordinates Boekenzoeker, a reading advice website for children and youngsters. In 2002 she joined the Flemish branch of IBBY Belgium and since 2015 she has been its president.