Study on Reading Promotion
“The Library Has to Become an Environment People Can Feel at Home in”

Libraries make an important contribution to the promotion of reading.
Libraries make an important contribution to the promotion of reading. | Photo (detail): © wip-studio –

The Technical University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg has carried out a study on the promotion of reading in libraries. An interview with Ute Krauss-Leichert, Coordinator of the study, about reading motivation and reading performance.

Mrs Krauss-Leichert, what forms of reading promotion are currently available in libraries?

The promotion of reading has been one of the most important tasks of public libraries for a long time. The PISA shock of 2000, however, and the debate that followed it, have of course moved it even more into the public eye. Since then, the advertising done by libraries to promote reading has had much more of an impact. The classic formats embrace such activities as picture book cinema, holiday reading clubs, book rallies or readings by authors. A more recent approach, for example, would be "Kamishibai", an image-based form of reading aloud that originates from Japan. What it requires is a stage made of cardboard, in which images from the book being read are inserted – this is a really nice option, especially for refugee children.

What role do digital devices and services play when it comes to the promotion of reading?

Digital devices and services are becoming increasingly important. One example would be hybrid picture books that work on the principle of augmented reality. With the help of a free app the children can experience the classic picture book with text in a completely different way. If it is a book about birds, for example, then the appropriate birdsong sounds accompany the pictures. Apps, in fact, seem to be the order of the day, even for children in day care centres or at elementary school. Older children have the possibility to create their own e-books using an app, or they can take part in social reading events in which they chat online about what is being read. Even multimedia forms like this come under the heading of reading promotion.

Spotting the wrong word and the urge to read

At the Technical University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg you carried out a long-term study on the promotion of reading – the only study up to now that focuses on Germany as a whole. Are there any findings that confirm that the promotion of reading has been successful?

We first had to clarify what is to be understood by reading skills. We decided on an approach expounded in the theory of reading socialization. This does not just involve examining reading performance, but also reading habits and reading motivation. For our study we chose a second year class of a primary school with a high percentage of immigrant children in the Brackwede district of Bielefeld and accompanied the class through to the fourth year. At first the pupils attended an event at the municipal library to promote reading twice a month, later every two months. In addition a “spot the wrong word” test was conducted regularly at their school – a test in which they had to identify the wrong word in a given sentence. Their reading performance, however, was not the decisive indicator for us – more their reading motivation and reading habits.

How can reading motivation and reading habits be measured?

One possible indicator is, for example, if the children have their own library card. In the beginning, 50 percent of the pupils borrowed books using their own library card, by the end of the study it was 80 percent. This is also a reflection of their loyalty to the library. The families that buy the most books are those who can afford to. Many poorer families, especially those from educationally deprived sections of society, however, have to rely on borrowing the books free of charge from a library. Another interesting finding – the number of children who stated in our survey that they like to read increased from an initial 14 per cent to over 70 per cent.

Reading promotion even for crawlers and toddlers

And this is due solely to the promotion of reading in libraries?

No. We would never be able to prove that the results can be put down to one factor only. After all, children nowadays are exposed to all kinds of influences from the media. Nor can we clearly show what form of reading promotion is the most effective. The libraries, however, can train children how to use books and the media, show them how much fun it can be and help them to view reading as a matter of course.

What insights have been gained for public libraries from your study?

You have to start early with the promotion of reading! Not with children in day care centres, but even with those who are still crawling or toddling. There are so-called precursor skills that form an important basis for the acquisition of written language. Such skills can be promoted in libraries, by offering, for example, activities for the promotion of reading in early childhood such as nursery rhymes, songs, finger games, picture books and storytelling. A lot of libraries are already doing this, but it requires trained personnel. It is also important that reading promotion events are held on a regular basis, not just once every school year.

Of course, adequate financial resources also have to be made available.

Above all, it is important to provide reading promotion on a decentralized basis. In many places the scene is dominated by the swish, well equipped central library, but in the district libraries it is often quite a different story. This is where the children from educationally deprived backgrounds can be found and reached, although too often these district libraries unfortunately lack the appropriate equipment and services. The library has to become a place people can feel at home in.
Prof. Dr. Ute Krauß-Leichert Prof. Dr. Ute Krauß-Leichert | Photo (detail): © HAW/Paula Markert Ute Krauss-Leichert is a librarian, sociologist, social psychologist and professor for information technology services at the Technical University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg. She is responsible for the long-term study entitled Leseförderung und Wirkungsforschung (Reading Promotion and Impact Research), which was conducted from 2009 to 2014 in cooperation with the Municipal Library of Bielefeld.