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National Year of Reading 1998 – 1999

Building a Nation of Readers: a review of the National Year of Reading was published by the then Department for Education and Employment and the National Literacy Trust. Below is the Executive summary from the review. 

Why did we need a National Year of Reading?    

1: The National Year of Reading (NYR) was set up as a key part of the Government's drive to raise standards through the National Literacy Strategy and its policy for lifelong learning. On taking office as Secretary of State for Education and Employment in May 1997, David Blunkett established a National Year of Reading Advisory Group, chaired by Professor Michael Barber, Head of the Standards and Effectiveness Unit, which held its first meeting in July 1997. A budget of £4 million was made available for the National Year of Reading over three financial years. This was to cover the cost of a public relations company, a fund for allocation to selected NYR projects, marketing and publicity, and the project management of the Year. The aim was to create a high-profile campaign that would reach the widest possible audience and generate additional sponsorship in the process.    

2: In October 1997, the Department for Education and Employment contracted the National Literacy Trust to deliver the Year on its behalf. A team of four led by Project Director, Liz Attenborough, began work in January 1998, in close cooperation with an Executive Group chaired by Ken Follett and colleagues, at the DfEE Standards and Effectiveness Unit, and in liaison with NYR coordinators in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.    

3: The Year was announced to all sectors of the community at a major consultative conference in January 1998. The 'Read me' logo was launched at this event and a Getting Ready booklet was published. It was also announced that public relations firm, Hill & Knowlton, had been appointed to publicise the campaign and applications were invited for the first £400,000 tranche of the fund for NYR projects.    

Getting people involved    

4: The NYR team approached key partners in education, libraries, the arts, business, the book trade, and sports, youth and voluntary organisations, and established a point of contact in each local authority. It did not organise individual events but supported others in doing so by providing resources, such as a monthly newsletter, advice sheets, a database of activity and a website. It also distributed a small range of publicity materials and suggested monthly themes to help provide a focus for activities.    

5: The Year was launched by David Blunkett on the set of BBC TV's EastEnders on 16 September 1998, with the stated aim of engaging the whole community in reading, for pleasure and for purpose, in order to build a nation of readers.    

6: A major television advertising campaign with the message 'A little reading goes a long way' ran during September and October 1998 (repeated with radio advertisements in February 1999) and three million copies of an accompanying booklet were distributed. Public relations company, Hill & Knowlton, under the guidance of Tim Blythe, Director of Corporate Affairs at WHSmith, set up media campaigns, involved celebrities in reading promotion events and took a NYR Roadshow to nine cities. Coverage was extensive in both the print and broadcast media, with well over 700 articles and around 200 broadcast pieces. The campaign also generated significant international attention, with several enquiries from countries interested in adapting the UK model. On a local basis, awareness was raised through high-profile launch events, conferences, poster campaigns, travelling displays and collaboration with local media, sports organisations and celebrities. The logo was used widely on everything from council correspondence and vehicles, to balloons and booklets.    

7: The NYR was able to provide financial support totalling £800,000 for 86 projects during the Year, representing work in national and local organisations promoting reading and literacy in libraries, schools and communities involving all ages and abilities. Several projects produced reading-related resources for wider use or created literacy initiatives which have been able to continue with further funding or incorporation into mainstream work. A system was put in place to monitor and disseminate information about these projects.    

8: In addition, a grant of £100,000 was made to the Arts Council of England, who matched the fund and worked with its ten Regional Arts Boards on a library promotion project and worked with LEAs, in order to reach around 35,000 children through a Writers in Schools project. Further funding of £50,000 was granted to the Commission for Racial Equality to run its Global Words project.    

What really happened    

9: News International and Walkers Snack Foods created their high-profile Free Books for Schools campaign, Sainsbury's announced £6 million sponsorship of Book Trust's Bookstart project for babies, Orange encouraged workplace reading groups and a host of companies signed up to have their staff act as reading volunteers in schools. National businesses already involved in literacy projects stepped up their activities; other businesses got involved on a local basis, often through Training and Enterprise Councils or Education Business Partnerships. Further funding was made available for community reading initiatives through the BT Reading Challenge.    

10: The BBC launched its adult literacy campaign A Word in Your Ear on local radio in September 1998 and Books for Babies on television in November 1998. Mersey TV incorporated literacy storylines in Channel 4's Brookside and Hollyoaks with an accompanying helpline.    

11: Local coordinators, mainly from library or education services, worked with colleagues to create special programmes to fit around local events or tie in with the monthly focus themes, or badged existing activity under the NYR banner. The composition of steering groups varied widely but often included representation from other council departments, local businesses, media, theatres, prisons, sports teams, community groups and the voluntary sector.    

12: The central role of libraries in reading promotion was brought to the fore during the NYR, and subsequently confirmed by the findings of a research project, jointly commissioned by the Library and Information Commission and the National Literacy Trust. Training increased through organisations such as Opening the Book, and innovative partnerships with the commercial sector were pioneered by agencies such as LaunchPad.    

13: Promoting reading to adults was given a higher priority, with libraries making good use of a reader or poet in residence, to encourage new readers and develop reading groups for different specialist and language interests. Outreach work with adults involved basic skills students, travellers, the homeless and unemployed, and the housebound elderly.    

14: Schools and libraries successfully targeted fathers as potential role models for reluctant boy readers, involving them in storytelling and reading sessions with their children, in locations as varied as community groups and prison visitor centres. Young parents were also reached through work with local health services, in schemes such as Bookstart and with community groups in a range of settings.    

15: Teachers, school librarians and governors organised thousands of reading events in schools including author visits, book festivals and reading clubs. Schools also benefited from a significant increase in the number of businesses committing employees to reading volunteer schemes. Youth workers and librarians worked together to appeal to teenagers, making use of graphic novel writing, new technology and live performance.    

Conclusions and priorities for the future     

16: The National Year of Reading was an exciting project which generated a huge amount of goodwill, inventive thinking and genuine enjoyment. For many people working in education and libraries, it was a case of building on a lifetime of good practice, but with the added impetus of a nationally-recognised banner. For others it was a revelation in terms of new opportunities and working methods. Most importantly, for many individuals it opened the door to an enjoyment of reading for the first time in their lives.    

17: The NYR, together with the National Literacy Strategy in primary schools and an extra £115 million funding for books for schools, has given the reading agenda a terrific kickstart, unique in terms of the scale of Government support and high-profile media endorsement. The imperative now is to capitalise on those things that really worked. Three strong themes emerge from all this activity, in each case pointing to the way forward for the Year's continuation as the National Reading Campaign: (i) changing attitudes to reading among different audiences, (ii) the role of libraries in developing readers, and (iii) working in partnership.    

Changing attitudes to reading among different audiences   

18: The Year certainly raised the profile of reading and began to change attitudes among a range of audiences, However, given the timescale, it could never have 'cured' the problems which had been identified. More effort is required, with work to date indicating specific ambitions for the future. In particular, these include:    

  • Finding ways to support teachers by establishing reading connections outside the school building and school day. 
  • Working with young parents, recognising their willingness to help support their children's reading and, in many cases, their lack of confidence in knowing how to go about it. 
  • Helping men in particular to see their role in sharing books with their children. 
  • Targeting reluctant readers, especially boys. 
  • Demonstrating the potential for reading to motivate and open up new opportunities for young people. 
  • Finding new ways of engaging adults in reading as a path to learning. 
  • Encouraging opportunities for everyone to benefit from the pleasure of reading. 

The role of libraries in developing readers     

19: The importance of reader development work was highlighted during the Year, and has now been given a significant boost by the announcement of new support through the £2 million DCMS/Wolfson Public Libraries Challenge Fund, to build on work initiated during the NYR. It will be important for libraries to continue to:    

  • Work with local and national partners to reach new audiences, tackling social exclusion and promoting lifelong learning. 
  • Keep reader development work high on the agenda. 
  • Create a framework of regular reading promotion opportunities, building on the success of existing schemes such as World Book Day and National Poetry Day. 
  • Promote their role through regular national campaigns. 

Working in partnership     

20: A particularly positive aspect of the Year, at both national and local levels, has been the establishment of new partnerships. These have linked people across private and public sectors, institutions and disciplines, often for the first time, uniting them in a range of rewarding ventures with the bonus of national recognition. Building on these, the way forward is to:    

  • Continue to raise awareness of the value of working across sectors nationally, regionally and locally. 
  • Establish a networking group for reading and literacy in every local authority. 
  • Recognise good practice and use it as a model. 
  • Continue to demonstrate that everyone has a part to play in the reading community. 

The National Reading Campaign     

21: Few campaigns can sustain such a high level of activity year upon year, even if they had the resources to do so. The continuation of the National Year of Reading as the National Reading Campaign (NRC) offers an opportunity to consolidate and learn from successful initiatives, in order to achieve long-term change and, ultimately, lasting benefits for the whole community. Working through the National Literacy Trust, supported by the Department for Education and Employment, the NRC will provide a central coordinating and networking role, acting as a conduit for ideas, information and contacts and consulting with campaign partners about how to deliver its objectives most effectively. It will make full use of the Trust's website and database, and will continue to draw on the Trust's considerable knowledge of literacy initiatives and thinking nationwide, now reinforced through the experience of running the Year itself. The priorities of the National Reading Campaign will be to:    

  • Consolidate and build on good practice through the dissemination of information and guidance. 
  • Find ways of promoting models of partnership work in reading and literacy.
  • Continue to encourage and support reader development, especially when it reaches beyond traditional readers. 
  • Strengthen links between reading promotion and the wider literacy agenda. 
  • Encourage new partners to become involved in promoting reading and literacy for both pleasure and purpose. 

22: The NYR proved what can be achieved by people working together for a common purpose. Having seen what is possible, the next step is for individuals, groups and organisations in all sectors of our society to recognise that they have a responsibility and long-term self-interest in keeping reading high on the agenda. The National Reading Campaign will play its part by stimulating the debate, working to bring together agencies and, above all, sharing the message about how good ideas and professional practice can indeed make us into a nation of readers.     

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The National Literacy Trust is a registered charity no. 1116260 and a company limited by guarantee no. 5836486 registered in England and Wales and a registered charity in Scotland no. SC042944.
Registered address: 68 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RL.