Today’s post comes to us from Sue McKerracher, formerly the Director of The Library Agency and now the CEO of the Australian Library and Information Association. In 2012, Sue led a massive advocacy program in Australia entitled the National Year of Reading. She kindly agreed to share her story with the ILN community.
Australian libraries and library associations were the driving force behind a campaign to turn 2012 into the National Year of Reading, linking together all the great things that were already happening around books, reading and literacy, and giving them an extra boost, with inspirational programs and events taking place across the country.
We purposefully described this as a National Year of Reading, not a National Year of Literacy, but the context was that 46% of Australians struggled with everyday reading (Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, 2006). This was the critical factor which helped us persuade the Australian Government to provide $1.7 million in grants to fund the campaign, but it was also very helpful to be able to cite the success of the UK National Year of Reading in 2008 – international cooperation really paid off!
While much of the activity happened through partners and at a local level, we ran four national campaigns within the National Year of Reading to create a framework that others could add to.
- The Reading Hour (like Earth Hour, but with the lights on!) was both a family commitment and a national event.
- A nationwide membership campaign between May and August attracted people into libraries.
- Instead of One Book One City, we ran One Book One Country using a much-loved Australian children’s book, Alison Lester’s Are We There Yet?
- We worked with major employers to create writer-in-residence programs, for employees who wanted to develop their creative skills, and for those who struggled with reading and writing but welcomed the opportunity to tell their story with the help of an author or illustrator.
We found this balance of local and national was about right. We know that more than 2,000 libraries across Australia participated, running more than 4,000 events across the year, involving more than 200,000 active participants. We could never have achieved this if we had tried to ‘own’ every event at the centre. In addition, we ran an Indigenous Festival of Reading, Writing and Storytelling, in Alice Springs, and a short story writing competition on the theme It’s Never Too Late To Learn to Read, for Adult Learners’ Week.
Partnerships were crucial and we estimate there was easily $5.6 million-worth of in-kind support. Disney Junior, for example, produced a high quality TV advertisement for The Reading Hour and ran it free on the Disney Channel in the run up to The Reading Hour. The other big win for us was the
$26 million-worth of media coverage for our key message about reading as a life skill. You couldn’t buy the kind of editorial support the campaign created.