BookTrust unveils pilot public library experience to support disadvantaged families start their reading journey

BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, has announced plans to pilot a new, national library experience called BookTrust Storytime. Developed in partnership with libraries, local authorities and families, and funded by Arts Council England, the project will support disadvantaged families with children in their early years to engage with their local public library and develop an ongoing reading habit.

Sharing stories is invaluable for children in their early years and creates lifelong positive impacts on health, wellbeing, creativity and education, yet children from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to face the biggest barriers to reading. A recent BookTrust survey of 1,000 families in poverty with a child under 5 across England, NI and Wales revealed that less than half (49%) of these families are registered with a public library.

In the wake of the COVID pandemic, BookTrust Storytime forms part of the charity’s new strategy, which is focused on finding the most effective ways of supporting the families who need more help beginning their reading journeys, so that more children can enjoy the transformative benefits of reading. The pilot also aligns with libraries’ aspirations to reconnect with their local communities after a year of closures, to kick-start visits as part of the ongoing recovery from the pandemic, and support more disadvantaged children.

About BookTrust Storytime

Launching in Autumn 2021, the large-scale national pilot, created with the support of library partners including The Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians (ASCEL), Libraries Connected, The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and Youth Libraries Group (YLG), will bring together local authorities, libraries, authors and illustrators to test new ways of inspiring shared early years story experiences through local libraries.

The project has been developed in collaboration with librarians and families to ensure the design and content reflects their experiences and meets their needs, including breaking down any limiting preconceptions – such as libraries being solely a place for reading books quietly – as well as showcasing the broader opportunities available with clear signage and a welcoming, friendly environment.

Insight from the co-design process showed that families are more likely to return to the library if they have a positive, fun first experience and can see the enjoyment and benefit experienced by their child. The BookTrust Storytime experience will offer a raft of resources for librarians alongside activities for families that will bring the magic of reading to life, and to inspire sharing stories and visiting the local library to become a regular and long-lasting part of family life.

These experiences will also incorporate the existing BookTrust Storytime Prize, which celebrates the best early years children’s books. This year’s shortlist, announced today, will be integrated into the experience and used to encourage families to make repeat visits to the library to read the different books and engage in the different activities on offer.

The pilot itself will adopt a three-tiered approach, with different levels of library engagement:

– National Tier: Every library in England will be invited to take part and receive a pack of the Storytime shortlisted books, alongside access to a range of digital resources.

– Learning Tier: More than 300 libraries across the country, will receive multiple Storytime shortlist packs, digital and physical resources to reach families, as well as running Storytime sessions for local families and taking part in the Storytime winner vote – announced in early 2022.

– Pilot Tier: A further group of 10 libraries – located in Luton (Leagrave Road Library), Lancashire (Nelson Library), Cornwall (Camborne Library), Rochdale (Balderstone library), Bradford (Laisterdyke library), Cambridge (Wisbech Library), Rotherham (Rawmarsh Library), Hackney (Dalston CLR Library), Bristol (Junction 3 Library) and Sandwell (Stone Cross Library) – have been selected to work intensely with BookTrust to test a range of additional ideas, materials and activities to further inspire and motivate families who need more help beginning their reading journeys.

Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust said: ‘At BookTrust we believe all children should reap the life changing benefits of reading, and our bold new strategy is focused on finding innovative ways to ensure children from disadvantaged families are not left behind. Working with the local authorities and library services that share these ambitions, our BookTrust Storytime experience will remind families about the treasure trove of support available from their local library and kickstart visits as we emerge from the pandemic. Through this pilot, we will work with our library and local authority partners to test and learn how families can be best supported to engage with their local public library and make sharing stories a regular part of family life.’

Dr. Darren Henley, OBE, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, said: ‘Reading books changes a child’s life, opening their minds to whole new worlds of possibilities. It’s so important that every young person, no matter what their start in life, can unlock the opportunities offered by reading for pleasure. And there’s no better place for that magic to happen than in our network of public libraries in villages, towns and cities across the country. BookTrust’s Storytime programme will help local councils support families to provide a great start for their children by encouraging them to love reading and supporting that vital development of communication skills in early years.’

Annabel Gittins, Vice Chair, ASCEL and Library Development Manager, Shropshire, said:
‘With books and reading at their heart, libraries offer connections and support for every age and every stage through a myriad of projects that allow families to be creative, to feel included, and above all experience kindness. BookTrust Storytime resources will enable libraries to play a key role in local COVID-19 recovery not only by supporting local authority priorities around the development of early speech, language and communication skills in pre-school children, but also enticing more families to recognise libraries as their space to explore, with opportunities available for all age groups.’

Isobel Hunter, CEO, Libraries Connected, said: ‘Projects like BookTrust Storytime are vital because libraries are places of possibility with the power to change lives. With libraries gradually reopening, we are thrilled to be working with BookTrust to celebrate and showcase the invaluable role they play within the community, and to create innovative new ways of ensuring that families and young children from all backgrounds have access to high quality, engaging public library experiences that reflect, respond and support their needs.’

Sir Michael Morpurgo, President of BookTrust, said: ‘I first walked into a library when I was about three, I think. It lent us the first books I ever loved, and I’ll never forget that. Every library is a pathway to enjoyment, knowledge and understanding, and, to me, every librarian is a hero because they pass on what they love to children, making readers and writers of them, and bringing joy to their lives. It is wonderful that BookTrust and libraries across the country are working together and using their invaluable expertise to do something new and different to support more families discover the joy of reading.’