School Libraries and Reading Promotion

by Peter Gyr

Concrete Reading Promotion

It’s that easy: you learn to read by reading. And if you read because you want to, you read well. And this is where the problems start. All of you are teachers or teachers in training or school directors, and you do not have, at least we suppose so, problems with reading because you read because you want to and you read well. The problem is that many children are bad readers and that you, being a good reader, don’t know the problems and worries of bad readers. Among children, and also among adults, there are those who are world champions in hiding their inability to read well.

The text book may also act as the symbol of failure at school.

What does the Word Read, gusoma, Mean?

In my mother tongue, German, the root of the word read means to choose, to collect (to gather), to keep, to take. To collect, to keep, to take are actions we only do with things that please us, that bring us joy and, thus, the effort to obtain them is worth it. That is why it is important (and the research on reading shows it) to show children and young people that reading is worth it and that it may bring pleasure. To tell stories o to read them for yourself opens the world for you. In Kinyarwanda, the word for reading: gusoma, is also a word with multiple meanings that invites to pleasurable actions:

To read, to kiss, to drink.

With such beautiful meanings, it must be a real pleasure to promote reading!

What is Reading and what Happens when you Read.

Reading is a multiple skill. Besides decoding characters, words and sentences, these units must be organized in coherent and meaningful sets. The information found in a text has to be liaised with our experience and our thoughts. Our past experiences and what we have already read interconnect in a complex net in our minds.

There is also scientific research, known now in Europe, that demonstrates that people who read very much are happier, on average, than those who do not read much o just do not read at all. We do not know what this feeling represents but it has been proven to be there. I suppose that having the ability to go into your inner world, or somebody else’s, to experience the pleasure of an adventurer and to be able to identify yourself with a story, and the consciousness of our own condition that enlarges our horizon. We can see each time farther away and we discover new things.

The most recent research on reading shows also that in the learning phase, the experience of first readings may be definitive for the future of our careers as readers. That is why the fist reading lessons, the model presented by the teacher and a good school library are of crucial importance. European research shows two break-ups in the children’s reading process. The first break-up, the small one, takes place around the third or fourth grades and the big break-up takes place around the seventh or eight grades. It is the age of puberty when for so many youngsters many activities become more important than school. For those who have not learned how to read appropriately, the window of opportunity is closed at this age and it will be very difficult to reopen it later on.

Reading Promotion Perspectives

Reading in our society of knowledge and information is an unavoidable technique. Rwanda is not the exception in this direction. Rwanda is a country impregnated by oral-tradition-based literature and writing is still at an early stage. This is precisely why it is so exciting to follow the development of the technique and culture of reading.

We know it, to read is important. It has helped us to surpass our past. Those who want to take advantage today of the internet and who want to use books to their advantage need skills in the field of writing. The pupils need our support in the development of their reading skills. Reading promotion becomes a central duty to every school. Without the basic skills in reading and writing, they cannot learn in a satisfactory way many other skills.

As teachers, you hold a key role in reading promotion!

Your enthusiasm about reading is contagious and it is a driving force for students.

How to get students excited about books when you do not have books at hand? And when there are books, they are in a foreign language. It is not easy. That is why school libraries are necessary. But there are few school libraries in the countryside. A national policy, which rules the strategy about school libraries, is needed. I think we should start at the base. That is, building a network of national libraries starting from the school libraries. School libraries may be combined and developed to become community school libraries and in the provinces, regional libraries. Such development must be done in carefully planned stages. A wild forest of many small libraries that are not good enough is not worth the name of libraries, it will not take us very far.

Why do we need school libraries?

In the past, schools gave out knowledge. Today, schools have a supplementary mission of turning out competent youngsters that can move by themselves in the flow of information, who can choose among the information collected, to qualify them to do a certain thing. This way, the students may become apt for a way of life that needs a never ending learning. It is in the hands of schools to achieve that school libraries become the walkways to offering these skills without exception. This is where the learning in books and other media will take place.

What is a school library?

I want to talk to you out of my personal experience. For 20 years I have been in charge of the libraries of the canton of Lucerne. I coordinate the essence of libraries; I organise their growth and write the policy for them. Moreover, we draw guidelines for community libraries. I will come back to this later. I will start by giving you my vision of an ideal school library. It is a somewhat schematic picture but you will understand me better.

You build a school. In the center, the library and around it the class rooms. The library is open all day to students and teachers and the librarian has a teacher’s statute. I know, sports and music are important. But today, I am talking of school libraries.

Following are the important points for a school library according to Swiss guidelines:

·The library supports the school in its mission to educate and teach. It makes books and other media available in order to facilitate an autonomous operation, the formation of one’s own critical thinking and the consciousness of the importance of recreation.

·The school library is useful for students and teachers as an information center, both for learning and recreation.

·Each school has its own library.

·The school library is located in a strategic place.

·The library is of open access. Its dimension and management allow for individual, group or class work.

·The extent and disposition of seats for media space is enough for students and teachers. ·The organisation will allow for lessons, continuing education and recreation.

·The school library keeps its media according to the state of the art applied by libraries.

·The school library is directed by a professional librarian or a librarian in training.

·The canton takes care of basic rules, financial needs and gives advice.

I hope you are not disappointed. Some of the things mentioned are not possible until the market of books in Kynirwanda is enough and until some librarian education is offered.

To start a school library and direct it, we have to keep in mind the most important dispositions. They are about the basic principle, organisation, space, inventory, staff, investment costs, functioning costs, evaluation of success.

Basic Principle

Each school has its own library


The responsible organ at the lawful level guarantees and finances the functioning of the library and dictates the rules.


At least, the same size of a class room


At least 100 books and 200 supplementary media

Ten books per student

Annual renewal of 10% of the inventory


Four work-hours per week for 1000 books

Investment Costs

1/3 for installation and 2/3 for inventory

Funcitioning Costs

Staff, inventory, cost of things and seats

Evaluation of Success

Annual report, statistics

This grossly represents what a school library can offer.

The UNESCO Manifest must be visible and distributed among school libraries.

In a second session we will work with concrete examples of library analysis and how to work with books in class or in the school library.

Thank you.

Peter Gyr

School Libraries and Reading Promotion

IBBY workshop, June 30 at Kigali.

Concrete Reading Promotion

You learn to read by reading.

If you read because you want to, you read well.

Individual and group reading have an important place in school teaching. Discussion following the reading of a book allows for ordering, estimating, working or be understood by students.

Children must learn that a book does not only contain information or things to learn, but it is fun also. To read must be pleasurable!

Conditions of Reading Promotion

To promote class reading it is very important to establish a pleasing reading atmosphere.


·School library located in the most attractive place of the school.

·Reading corner in the class room

·Creation of a free reading time

·Reading aloud/Telling stories

Methods of Reading Promotion

There are several ways of introducing texts:

·Visual, figurative, painted possibilities.

·Possibilities of working with the texts in a personal way.

·Acting or memorizing a text.

·Finding the history behind the story.

·Finding a continuation for the story: Ten tears later…

·Changing the end of the story.

·Adding dialogues.

·Substituting a character in the story and talking about her/him from you own point of view.

·Rewriting the texts like a theatrical piece, with sound effects.

·Describing and analyzing yourself as one of the characters, or imagining an intimate journal.

·Illustrating the text.

·Introducing parts of the text like role playing.

·Mimicking some situations.

·Discussing in class the problems dealt with in the book: friendship and love, dependence, power/authority at school, mobbing, sickness and death, minorities, war and freedom, poverty, etc.

·Advertising interesting books. For example, with bulletin boards, with slogans.

·Create contests (reading aloud/ telling the story)

Peter Gyr, June 2006

(Translated from French by María Candelaria Posada)