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“Start Life with a Book” — improving reading literacy

The Little Mole and Winter programme at Louny Public Library, Louny Public Library, CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

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  • Public
The Association of Library and Information Professionals of the Czech Republic started a project in 2018 called “Start Life with a Book” (S knížkou do života). It was inspired by the original Bookstart project founded by BookTrust in the United Kingdom in 1992 with follow-ups in various European countries. Its goal is to show parents of young children how reading is important for their children’s intellectual and emotional development and, consequently, future employment.

Project description

Until recently, only a handful of Czech libraries offered special services to babies, toddlers and preschool children and their parents or caregivers. Although the overall literacy rate in the Czech Republic basically reaches 100%, the PISA 2018 international survey clearly indicated that Czech students — compared to those from other OECD countries — were achieving just slightly above average results in reading literacy.
The Association has provided all participating libraries with a standard package to be given to the parents. Every library adds a free library card or a voucher to get one and can add any other items it considers fit for purpose, such as folding picture books or suitable toys. In the first year of the project, libraries received the package for free; starting from the second year, it can be purchased for a modest fee. The packages are distributed to parents at various occasions, most commonly the occasion of welcoming new-born citizens by the local authorities, at special events taking place in libraries or at maternity wards in hospitals.
An impressive number of 140 libraries have joined the project so far. As a result, libraries strengthened their links with local authorities and developed partnerships with local charities, and companies. The gift packages have been sponsored mostly by the Association’s partners, especially private enterprises but also by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. Every participating library is expected to organise a minimum of four events for the children and their parents per year, which include activities such as reading, storytelling, creative activities, and movement. It is also expected that facilities such as baby feeding areas or changing stations are available — these can take a variety of forms, always depending on financial resources and space available. Several handbooks have been published so far to provide guidance for participating libraries.
According to a survey conducted in November 2018, 97% of libraries participating in the project report that parents and their children are interested in taking part in the future events. In many libraries, book clubs for parents with children under the age of five have been set up. Since 2018, the participating libraries have given away approximately 100,000 packages. Apart from parents and children, the project has been acknowledged by politicians, especially from the Senate, and financially supported by several regional authorities. In 2018, it received an award from the Czech Minister of Culture. Since 2021 it has been implemented under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture.

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