Concerned that poor reading skills would limit young Latvians’ chances in life, librarians at Valmeira Public Library conducted research into their reading habits. Their survey of over 260 youth aged from 12 to 15 found that 21% of boys and 5% of girls did not read at all. The main reasons given for not reading were lack of interest and a preference for activities like meeting friends and communicating on social media.
THE INNOVATIVE SERVICE
The findings sparked an idea for a new service that combines reading, technology and social media. With a small grant (up to US$20,000) from EIFL-PLIP, the library consulted with the software developers, Fastr Books, to develop a ‘social reading’ app that enables teenagers to create their own e-book libraries, to build networks of followers, to chat with their friends and to share opinions about books online. Fastr Books also provided access to an e-books collection (around 12,000 titles in seven languages, including Latvian).
The librarians selected and trained 15 teenagers - ‘reading ambassadors’ - to promote e-reading with their friends, to teach them to use the library’s tablet computers and the social reading app, and to initiate discussion about books.
The project, titled ‘Read and get Followers’ was ready to launch.
EIFL-PLIP PROJECT TIMELINE
May 2014 – June 2015
ACHIEVEMENTS AND IMPACT
In less than a year (2014/15), the library taught over 450 teenagers to use tablet computers and the social reading app. For over half of the teenagers, this was their first experience of reading e-books.
Working with the ‘reading ambassadors’ and students and teachers of Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences, the library designed a new reading space for youth - the Future Reading Room. In this dynamic space, teenagers are encouraged to use technology to read, and to draw the links between literacy skills and technology. They are also encouraged to have fun, with technology including an interactive wall, tablet computers, e-books, video cameras, gaming software and Oculus Rift virtual reality glasses.
Social reading is a new concept to Latvia and the Latvian library sector: to promote it, the library launched a special show, ‘Readers of Vidzeme’, on a popular local television station, reaching an audience of over 200,000 people.
The project has sparked discussion about the need for e-book services in libraries across the country. It also changed the library’s approach to working with teenagers: for the first time, the library involved teenagers in co-creating a library service.
Future plans include continuing with the ‘A Library in Your Pocket’ training, and buying more tablet computers for the Future Reading Room. The reading ambassadors have begun setting up a new group of young volunteers, and librarians are committed to continue working with teenagers to co-create future services for children and youth.
ABOUT VALMIERA PUBLIC LIBRARY
Serving an average of 450 people a day in the city of Valmiera in Latvia’s Vidzeme region, the library advances community development through services including provision of access to print and online resources, digital technology training, access to computers and the internet, and courses to support lifelong learning.