1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
   Page tools: Print Print Page

National Year of Reading


“It's easy to be blasť about reading and books – easy to take them for granted. Yet when I think about it, reading to me is the key to so much. The key to a wider reach of information, a path to learning, the joy of entertainment and the exciting of the imagination. It's just so much fun.”
[endnote 1] William McInnes, Australian actor and author and patron of the National Year of Reading.

Image: National Year of Reading - Australian Actor William McInnes
Image: National Year of Reading.

For the nearly half of Australia’s adult population who lack minimum literacy skills, reading for pleasure may not be possible. This not only prevents them from partaking of one of life’s great joys – a ‘good read’ – but means that they are unable to access sources of knowledge and learning through reading. The National Year of Reading is highlighting the joy of reading and the benefits of fostering a love of books. It is also bringing into focus the role of Australian libraries in working with communities to encourage reading and to promote literacy.

This article explores the aims of the 2012 National Year of Reading and how, through its activities, it is contributing to making Australia a nation of readers. The article also considers more generally how libraries contribute to this aim by fostering a reading culture, including among disadvantaged populations.


TVs in the 1960s, PCs in the 1980s, Internet in the 1990s, laptops, tablets and smartphones in the noughties – work, study and leisure have become screen-based, online and virtual. Some may question the need for high levels of literacy in a digital age. However, the ability to read and write has never been so important. When you are communicating online, more than ever you need the ability to use words, the power of description, and the gift of storytelling. Whether it is a Facebook post, a text message or a daily blog, good use of words is an essential element of communication.

Literacy used to be just about prose, but it has developed new meanings for the 21st century. People now need document literacy for everyday, but vital, tasks such as reading and understanding occupational health and safety instructions in the workplace, or being able to fill out forms. Increasingly, they also need to be proficient in the use of information technology for communicating with others.

At its core, literacy is about the ability to use words, make meaning and access information in the written form. From a personal and societal perspective, it has come to mean the ability to function well in our increasingly complex lives. Nationally, a literate population is essential if Australia is to prosper in the global knowledge economy. Literacy also provides the gift of reading for pleasure – an engaging, rewarding, mind expanding and emotionally enriching activity. Those who are struggling with basic literacy will find that reading is a chore, a task, a complex system of symbols to be decoded. The black marks on the page will barely have meaning, so reading will not be a pastime of choice for these Australians – let alone a vehicle for success in life.

Image: Libraries Building Communities Report (State Library of Victoria, 2008).

Image: Libraries Building Communities Report (State Library of Victoria, 2008).

“The links between literacy, the ability to read and write the printed word, school performance, self-esteem and adult life chances have been widely documented … poor literacy skills are associated with generally lower education, employment, health and social outcomes as well as being linked to high rates of welfare dependence and teenage parenting.” (Centre for Community Child Health, 2004). The critical implications, in terms of future skill attainment, life outcomes and productivity levels are noted in the Victorian Government’s Young Readers Program Report (Kelly et al. 2011).

Outside health and housing, encouraging a child to read and keeping them reading is arguably the single most important thing that can be done to influence positive outcomes in young people’s lives – socially, culturally, educationally and economically. “At its most basic level, reading is a pleasurable pastime that has many positive outcomes for the individual. It provides inexpensive entertainment, contributes to a person’s wellbeing, and provides a connection with others. It is a means of acquiring knowledge and self-development, enabling readers to understand and empathise with people of different eras, cultures and situations.”(McKerracher, 2009). Not surprisingly, it also helps with vocabulary development, attention span, and the ability to concentrate and focus. Maryanne Wolf, in her book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, states that the process of learning to read actually teaches the brain how to learn (Wolf, 2007).


The Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALLS) was conducted in Australia in 2006 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). It was part of an international study co-ordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Statistics Canada, and examined adult literacy in the official language(s) of participating countries. ALLS was a follow-up to the Survey of Aspects of Literacy (SAL) conducted in 1996 as Australia’s contribution to the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS). Both the Australian studies looked at prose literacy (the ability to understand and use information from various kinds of narrative texts, including texts from newspapers, magazines and brochures) and document literacy (the knowledge and skills required to locate and use information contained in various formats, including job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and charts). The 2006 Australian survey added a more comprehensive domain on numeracy and new domains on problem-solving skills, and the ability to understand health-related information (such as reading the labels on medicine packets).

Participants in the studies were rated on their skill level, graded from 1 to 5. Individuals with a skill level for prose literacy below 3 are considered to lack the minimum skills required to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge-based economy. ALLS showed that almost half (46%) of all Australians aged 15 and over did not meet this requirement.

In an international context, prose literacy skill levels in Australia are comparable to those in Canada but are behind leading countries, such as Norway (graph 1).

Australia, in common with many of the other participating countries, exhibited only a modest improvement in literacy between 1996 and 2006. In Australia, the proportion of people with the poorest literacy (skill level 1) declined slightly for both prose (from 20% in 1996 to 17% in 2006) and document literacy (from 20% in 1996 to 18% in 2006). This was counter-balanced for prose literacy by slight increases at skill levels 2 (28% to 30%) and 3 (35% to 37%). For document literacy, the proportion of people at skill level 2 remained stable, while the proportion of people attaining skill level 3 increased from 28% to 30%.

The 2006 Australian survey found that literacy skill levels were generally higher for those with a higher level of educational attainment but that the correspondence was not exact. Among people whose highest qualification was a Bachelor degree, just over one-fifth (21%) were not prose literate, compared to 37% among people whose highest attainment was Year 12 and 73% among people with Year 10 or below.

In Australia, migrants who did not use English as their first language had lower literacy skills (in English), but there was a marked reduction in the gap between the 1996 survey (SAL) and the 2006 survey (ALLS).

While poor literacy is a concern for all ages, the 2006 Australian survey found lower skill levels for older people. Literacy decreased with age, in part, because of lower educational attainment, but perhaps also because some older people were no longer using more advanced literacy skills, particularly once they had retired. While 37% of people aged 20–24 and 41% of 40–44 year olds had low prose literacy skills, 73% of people aged 65–74 years did so.

Literacy levels in both the 1996 and 2006 Australian surveys were substantially lower among people who were unemployed or not in the labour force, compared with those who were employed. The final report on the 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) observed that, across all participating countries, people with low literacy were “... less likely to be in employment, less likely to find work when looking for it and less likely to work regularly when a job is obtained. Because the world of work also is a significant factor in the acquisition and building of skills, adults with low skills find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.” (OECD and Statistics Canada, 2000).

1. Prose literacy, proportion at skill level 3 or above, International comparison(a) - 2006

Another international study, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), is a study conducted by the OECD every three years, with the aim of providing a comparable measure of the achievement of 15-year old students in a range of core capabilities. While Australia ranked quite highly in the 2009 study (receiving results above the OECD average for every category), nevertheless, 14% of Australian students aged 15 had failed to reach the baseline level of reading proficiency considered essential for future development in a number of areas of knowledge acquisition. Another 20% were functioning at the minimum baseline proficiency level (OECD, 2011). More information on the PISA study can be found in International comparisons in chapter 12.

The final report on the IALS noted that “... literacy skills are maintained and strengthened through regular use. While schooling provides an essential foundation, the evidence suggests that only through informal learning and the active use of literacy skills in daily activities – both at home and at work – will higher levels of proficiency be attained. The creation of literacy-rich environments, in the workplace and more generally, can have lasting, intergenerational effects.” (OECD and Statistics Canada, 2000).This finding emphasises the importance of activities, such as those being undertaken under the umbrella of the National Year of Reading, in building and maintaining critical literacy skills.

Image - National Year of Reading 2012

The alarming 2006 ABS statistic that just under half (46%) of adult Australians cannot confidently read newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables, or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle, was a motivator for Australian libraries to found the National Year of Reading. The idea was based on the success of the United Kingdom National Year of Reading in 2008,[endnote 2] a year-long celebration of reading that aimed to build a greater national passion for reading in the United Kingdom. Critically, here in Australia, the initiative began with libraries and has subsequently been well supported by government as a key strategy contributing to the goal of a ‘Literate Nation’. The campaign in Australia is based on three goals and four strategies:

Three goals ...
  1. For all Australians to understand the benefits of reading as a life skill and a catalyst for wellbeing.
  2. To promote a reading culture in every home.
  3. To establish an aspirational goal for families, of parents and caregivers sharing books with their children every day.

Four strategies ...
  1. Belief in the positive power of reading. The NYR aims to spread the message to the wider community of the benefits of reading, to help change behaviours and to encourage a reading culture in all homes.
  2. Accessibility and inspiration for struggling and reluctant readers. The NYR will give people a taste of what is out there, in an easily digestible form – not weighty tomes, but novellas, magazine articles, audio books, e-zines and short stories; across many different genres; covering diverse cultural perspectives, and in some cases in languages other than English. The NYR will also appeal to book lovers. It is an opportunity for readers to try new things and to become advocates for reading with their peers. The year’s activities focus on all readers – avid, emergent, reluctant, developing and those struggling to learn to read, or to become better, or more proficient readers.
  3. Good government policy and practice. The NYR will give all three levels of government – local, state/territory and federal – the opportunity to showcase best practice from family literacy initiatives through to reading therapy for people in aged care facilities. This campaign provides the opportunity to create a new level of cross-government, cross-council involvement in literacy, which it is hoped will continue far beyond the end of 2012.
  4. A joined up approach, linking all the government agencies, organisations and programs engaged in reading and literacy. The NYR will link the good things that are already happening in promoting reading and add a catalyst for action into the mix. For example, the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance’s (ACLA) first Australian Children’s Laureate[endnote 3] will promote engagement with children and reading, and appreciation of Australian children’s and young adult literature.


The National Year of Reading is also highlighting the changing role of libraries in the community. Libraries were once seen as simply repositories of reading materials, but in recent years they have taken a more active approach to their core business. They have become community hubs providing services for a broad range of community members, with a focus on the most disadvantaged. In addition to being key linkage agents for activity across local areas for collaborative and co-operative projects, a broader range of materials is now available through these partnerships – both online and in print. This diversity means that libraries are a first contact point for people seeking all kinds of information, from all walks of life and for all sorts of reasons

There are many types of libraries: school libraries, state and territory libraries, government libraries, business libraries, prison libraries, special libraries, mobile libraries, university libraries, health libraries, TAFE libraries and, of course, public libraries. Public libraries alone represent a network of more than 1,500 sites, most of them located in the heart of towns and cities, forming an essential part of a community hub. Add 9,000 school libraries, plus university and TAFE, health, government, business, prison and other special libraries, and there are more than 10,000 high profile centres in metropolitan, rural and remote Australia, all with the shared goal of ‘Australia, a nation of readers’.

Reader development is a relatively recent focus for public libraries, although books and reading have always been at the heart of what a library has to offer its users. Reader development librarians are trained to support reading for pleasure and literacy initiatives - from new ways of displaying books and magazines to attract keen readers, through to programs and events for people with low and developing literacy levels.

Family literacy

The National Year of Reading is engaging families through various components of the program, for instance, supporting and advocating the role of families in literacy development. This is adding to libraries' already active role in developing strategies and resources for promoting literacy and a reading culture by supporting families in their role as first teachers.

International studies show that sharing books with young children before they go to school greatly improves their chances of developing good literacy skills.[endnote 4] The Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, put a strong economic argument to support the case for investment in early childhood initiatives, with programs targeted at children aged under six delivering a high rate of return on investment (Beckman, 2008).

Recent Australian research into parents’ understanding of the importance of reading to very young children has revealed that more than a quarter of parents are not aware of the impact of this activity (MCEECDYA parents survey, quoted in Hill, 2011). Evaluation of the Better Beginnings project conducted by Dr Caroline Barratt-Pugh at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, identified that providing free books in the home, and literacy support materials for parents, positively affected their reading habits with their children. As a result, increased library membership rates and book borrowing activities were also evident in the communities studied (Barratt-Pugh, 2010).

Parents and caregivers are the first teachers. The more stimulation they provide by talking to their babies, singing to them, and sharing rhymes and stories, the better the outcomes for their children. Economic and life-changing benefits can be achieved if parents or caregivers introduce their children to books at home, facilitated by sessions at their local libraries.

Families have traditionally been heavy users of public library services, which are free, accessible, local and informal. Families borrow from libraries’ collections of books, DVDs and other print/online materials. They participate in baby, toddler and children’s rhyme, song and storytelling sessions, and parents/caregivers seek advice from library staff about sharing books with their infants. Libraries are helping parents to be their children’s first teachers. The most active period of human brain growth and development is from birth to three years of age, and libraries employ specialist children’s and youth services staff to help parents/caregivers give their children the best start by sharing books with them.

Libraries already play an active role in developing strategies and resources for promoting literacy and a reading culture. In the National Year of Reading, initiatives such as those identified here will be used as models for best practice and implemented in communities where funding and partnerships are aligned to support their delivery.

The State Library of Queensland is leading a project to develop an Australian national early literacy strategy for public libraries and there are active programs and strategies at state and territory level. In Western Australia, the Better Beginnings program offers free books to families and literacy resources.[endnote 5]

Between 2007 and 2011, the Victorian Government ran the Young Readers Program through the State Library of Victoria. This program provided free picture books for every two-year old in the state; professional development for librarians and maternal and child health nurses, and the early childhood workforce; and free early literacy materials for new parents. Other agencies strongly associated with libraries’ work in this area include Let’s Read,[endnote 6] based in Victoria and conducted by the Centre for Community Child Health,[endnote 7] and the Little Big Book Club (LBBC),[endnote 8] based in South Australia. Let’s Read provides books and literacy strategies to support highly disadvantaged communities. LBBC developed and distributes literacy resources in many states including the It’s Rhymetime booklet and DVD (Little Big Book Club Inc, 2006).

Image: Never too early: baby with It’s Rhymetime booklet. Image supplied by West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation.

The professional development program, Building Literacy Before School@your Library (Hill, 2009), was developed and conducted by Associate Professor Susan Hill of University South Australia, in partnership with both the LBBC and the Young Readers Program in Victoria. It focuses on family literacy in the context of supporting library staff to share the importance of rich early literacy experiences. The support provided by library resources and specialist staff expertise is fundamental work that librarians and early childhood educators and carers are involved in.

Programs for young people

Young people are a focus of the National Year of Reading campaign. Keeping young Australians reading is critical to help them to continue building vocabulary and increase their understanding of themselves and of others. Whilst the brain remains able to continue adapting and growing throughout life, the teenager’s brain is at its most receptive to new information since its initial growth in early childhood (Mendelsohn, 2009). However, these are also years when reading for pleasure can drop off as other interests become more enticing. Teenage boys, in particular, are likely to do less recreational reading than when they were younger.

School and public libraries play an important role in keeping young people reading. Putting the right book, in the right hand, at the right time is a critical task, as young people’s reading advocate Agnes Nieuwenhuizen points out in her book Right Book, Right Time – 500 great reads for teenagers (Nieuwenhuizen, 2007). Developing knowledge and skills for both school and public librarians so they can play an active role in the development of readers is vitally important. Libraries also offer spaces for study and homework clubs outside of school hours.

Children’s book creator and co-winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for children’s fiction, Boori Monty Pryor, and award winning children’s book illustrator and author, Alison Lester, have been jointly named as the nation’s first Children’s Laureates.

Image: Winners of the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Awards (children's fiction) – Shake a Leg – Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod.[endnote 9]
Image: Winners of the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Awards (children's fiction) – Shake a Leg – Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod.[endnote 9]

Image: Winners of the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Awards (children's fiction) – Shake a Leg – Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod.[endnote 9]

Alison Lester’s book, Are We There Yet? is the younger readers’ featured book of the One Country Reading campaign – a hallmark component of the National Year of Reading. One Country Reading has a child, teen and adult target audience and is designed to get the country reading through active engagement. In the campaign, readers are encouraged to vote for their favourite books and share creative responses to reading.

Image: Alison Lester, from Are We There Yet? (Lester, 2004).

Image: Alison Lester, from Are We There Yet? (Lester, 2004).

Image: Keeping Young Australians Reading (McKerracher, 2009), photo State Library of Victoria Image Resources.

Nationally, the State Library of Victoria’s Centre for Youth Literature provides the insideadog.com.au website[endnote 10] for keen teen readers to exchange book reviews and participate in the voting for the annual Inky Awards for young adult fiction. The website reflects the Australian youth literature landscape and although built for a teenage audience, teachers and librarians use it readily for its resources, ideas about what teens like to read, and to direct keen readers to reading choices. The Centre also runs the country’s only youth literature specialist conference – the biennial Reading Matters conference.[endnote 11] Among others, it attracts library reader development officers, teacher-librarians and students. It features both international and Australian authors and illustrators. Additionally, the Centre provides professional development for school and public librarians through its annual program and the Read Alert blog, [endnote 12] which keeps professionals and parents abreast of news in the young adult literature landscape.

Image: insideadog.com.au website.[endnote 13]
Image: insideadog.com.au website.[endnote 13]

Other literature and reading promotion initiatives for young people include: the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Project,[endnote 14] hosted by Blacktown City Council; the Voices on the Coast Festival[endnote 15] and the Ipswich Festival of Children’s Literature,[endnote 16] both in Queensland; and the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre in Western Australia.[endnote 17] These initiatives support educational reading programs for young people in school, public library and community settings. Public libraries also partner with other festivals around Australia to support and promote their education programs with specialist primary and secondary school programs.

Adult literacy

One of the other major themes of the National Year of Reading is adult literacy and its focus on specifically addressing literacy in the workplace. This acknowledges the impact that adult literacy has on productivity, promotional opportunities and occupational health and safety issues in the workplace.

Libraries provide support for lifelong learning in the community. Their collections include audio/text materials for people who want to improve their literacy skills and a variety of other print and online resources. They host conversation classes for people for whom English is a second language, and they provide connections to other service providers, for example, the Australian Government’s Reading Writing Hotline.[endnote 18]

A major initiative targeted at speakers of languages other than English is the MyLanguage website.[endnote 19] Libraries ACT, the Northern Territory Library and the State Libraries of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia together created this Internet portal, enabling access to information in more than 60 languages, with over six million links to search engines, web directories, government websites, digital library projects and news. The website supports libraries in providing information to culturally and linguistically diverse communities that would not be possible via print collections alone.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ literacy

The National Year of Reading is supporting the development of literacy among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through supporting the Indigenous Literacy Foundation’s activities, as well as the Children’s Laureate program which will tour the Laureates to remote communities in 2012. Libraries are also playing their part in a variety of ways.

The 2009 National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) figures[endnote 20] show that only two-thirds (67%) of Year 5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieved Australia’s national minimum standard in reading, compared with 93% of non-Indigenous students. The percentage of Year 5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieving the national minimum standard in reading was less than half (47%) in remote areas and barely one-quarter (26%) in very remote areas (National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy, 2009).

A number of specialists are working to improve the literacy standards of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They include the Indigenous Literacy Foundation,[endnote 21] the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation’s Centre for Aboriginal Literacy,[endnote 22] the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation,[endnote 23] the Fred Hollows Foundation[endnote 24] and the Smith Family.[endnote 25]

State and territory libraries are active in supporting the development of literacy in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The State Library of Queensland has developed a network of Indigenous Knowledge Centres,[endnote 26] which offer traditional library services as well as a means and a place to capture and preserve local history and traditions. The Northern Territory Library’s Libraries and Knowledge Centres (LKC) program works to bring together technology-enhanced services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within a community networking framework. The Our Story project has developed a database that allows for the collection, holding and display of “... both repatriated and contemporary, including born-digital, cultural material relevant to local communities” (Gibson et al. 2011). Access to information, oral histories and the documentation of local stories in this way is an important and significant way to bridge oral and print (ink and online) cultures.

The Walk to School is “An Indigenous Early Years Literacy Strategy for Northern Territory Public Libraries and Knowledge Centres” (Northern Territory Library, 2008). The Strategy supports caregivers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged from birth to five years in creating rich literacy environments through behaviours and practices. It also facilitates access to age-appropriate literacy oriented activities and resources in library settings. This program is funded by a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Access to Learning Award that the Northern Territory Library received in 2007, in recognition of its innovative approach to the delivery of appropriate library services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


Outreach activities are vital to bridge the literacy gap for certain groups, for example, people who live in remote areas of Australia or people with non-English speaking backgrounds. Such activities may decrease the likelihood of non-completion of secondary school, which in turn, should help improve employment outcomes and reduce long-term economic disadvantage (State Library of Victoria and Library Board of Victoria, 2008).

Libraries are increasingly active in providing services beyond their walls, reaching out to those most in need – those who cannot or may not otherwise access the resources available to them. In the National Year of Reading, libraries are showcasing their efforts in this area, with activities and programs that foster a sense of community. For example, there are programs that support volunteers delivering books to people who are housebound (the home library service) while other programs encourage parents to read to their children by providing storytimes in English and other languages. Many library services conduct local needs analysis studies to develop appropriate community programs. Outreach programs are often delivered in partnership with maternal and child health services or community-based outreach programs like the Smith Family’s Communities for Children[endnote 27] programs.

Images: Beautiful Samoa – Community Publishing Project (Victorian Government Young Readers program, 2010).

Reaching the hard-to-reach

Community publishing projects offered through libraries provide an opportunity for storytelling and cultural exchange. These projects ‘join the dots’ between oral and print culture, creating high quality picture books that are relevant to culture and language for disadvantaged or marginalised groups. This approach has been developed by Kids Own Publishing,[endnote 28] a not-for profit arts organisation, and has been implemented in partnership with the State Library of Victoria as the Making Books Making Readers program in Victoria. This program is also delivered in Western Australia. It involves a community artist working with a local community group, usually bringing together children and parents and significant community members and elders, to tell their stories in words and pictures and produce the result as a high quality picture book.

Other outreach programs providing library services and literacy resources and activities for marginalised and disadvantaged sections of the community include Book Well (McLaine, 2010). The program partners public libraries in Victoria with community-based organisations and uses read aloud sessions as therapy for people experiencing mental health issues, hospital patients, prison inmates and residents in aged care facilities. In Tasmania, libraries are supporting the Reading Together[endnote 29] initiative at Risdon Prison, whereby male inmates are able to record themselves reading stories that can then be sent home to their children. This has many benefits, including restoring a form of family connection, introducing the role model of a father reading, and improving the literacy skills of those prisoners who struggle with reading.

The Vision Australia library service[endnote 30] is designed for Australians with a print handicap. It not only provides audio books for subscribers, but also Feelix kits for children to help vision impaired children enjoy picture books. These kits include Braille overlays and hand created physical artefacts related to the story that can be played with. The service also creates DAISY (Digital Accessible Information Systems) versions of all audio materials. Vision Australia has produced a Braille version of Are We There Yet? – the featured children’s book for the National Year of Reading.

Both the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and Westmead Hospital in Sydney offer reading programs, supported by Scholastic Australia. The newly-opened Royal Children’s Hospital will encourage reading in 2012 with programming created by the Education Institute. [endnote 31] The program enables children who have a long-term illness, and who may miss out on lengthy periods of schooling, to access books, information and reading activities through a Book Bunker.[endnote 32]

Outreach in the general community

During the National Year of Reading in 2012, travelling exhibitions like Look! The Art of Australian Picture Books Today and Alison Lester’s book, Are We There Yet? will provide families with a heart-warming experience, enjoying original picture book art at close range, thus encouraging connections with the featured books and stories. These exhibitions are visiting libraries and community centres in capital cities, regional centres and towns right around Australia.

Image: Illustration by Ann James, from Lucy Goosey[endnote 33] (courtesy State Library of Victoria).

Image: Illustration by Ann James, from Lucy Goosey[endnote 33] (courtesy State Library of Victoria).

The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA)[endnote 34] promotes high standards in children’s book creation and advocates the love of reading. It runs the Children’s Book Awards each year and state and territory committees partner with local libraries, schools and organisations on large and small scale initiatives. One example was the first joint Children’s Book Festival[endnote 35] delivered in partnership between the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, and the State Library of Victoria in 2011. The second festival, in 2012, will help establish an annual calendar event in Melbourne – Australia’s UNESCO City of Literature.[endnote 36] The Children’s Book Festival’s success was aided by its relationship with many partners including the Children’s Book Council (Victorian Branch). Other CBCA branches partner with libraries, schools and communities to deliver a variety of initiatives across the year. In 2012, Adelaide will be the home of the CBCA National Conference, supporting the professional development of librarians and booksellers in the National Year of Reading.[endnote 37]

The Australian Government continues to support the promotion of reading with the Get Reading![endnote 38] campaign, which takes place each September. Get Reading tours authors across the nation with events in libraries and community centres. Organisations such as the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, and the Copyright Agency Ltd for Australian authors and illustrators also promote reading via libraries and bookshops.

Independent booksellers that utilise the expertise of staff in recommending up-to-date reading suggestions, in the same way that a skilled librarian does, also play a crucial and important role in putting the right books in the right hands.

Reaching out online

The State Library of Victoria also works with SuperClubsPLUS (SCP),[endnote 39] a children's safe social learning network supported by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Victoria as well as by other government bodies and organisations around the world. A ‘Reading Badge’ has been developed designed to stimulate young readers. Primary aged students participate in author 'hot seats', interacting online with their favourite authors, reviewing books, making peer to peer recommendations for reading and entering competitions designed to encourage creative responses to reading. This is an innovative outreach activity accessible anywhere with an Internet connection, capitalising on young people’s affinity with technology and social networking. In 2012, a separate junior reading online project will be developed building on the success of this earlier collaboration between the State Library of Victoria and SCP, with additional partners including libraries, schools, publishers and, of course, young people themselves across the nation.

Image: Super Clubs Plus.[endnote 40]
Image: Super Clubs Plus.[endnote 40]


The National Year of Reading provides a spotlight on the changes that are occurring in the reading environment and on the role of libraries. The book industry is in a state of flux, due to the economic climate and technological developments, while the very nature of what is being read and how it is provided to the reader is changing. These changes are providing both challenges and opportunities to libraries. Most libraries are investing, or planning to invest, in the devices and e-resources that will enable library users to download and borrow e-books alongside other e-formats. In many ways, this is a new age for libraries, with borrowers now able to use the service remotely; space freed up by reference collections going online; and more room for reading, studying and taking part in events and activities. WiFi is already offered by many libraries and the arrival of the National Broadband Network will further increase the speed and connectivity, both for users of the libraries’ own terminals and for people with their own devices.

The library can be many things to many people. The Australian Library and Information Association’s Little Book of Public Libraries (ALIA, 2009) describes libraries’ multiple contributions to society, including strengthening family relationships; improving quality of life; building safer, stronger, sustainable communities; making citizens healthier; and contributing to economic prosperity. However, the core business of libraries remains around books and reading. Given this, it is appropriate that the peak body, National and State Libraries of Australasia, has commenced a review of the role of libraries in the literacy landscape that will recommend on strategic directions for the future.

The National Year of Reading in 2012 involves many partners, ambassadors, friends and supporters, but the driving force throughout 2012 is state, territory, public and school libraries. The NYR also looks beyond 2012 to build enduring partnerships between the many community and public contributors to Australia’s reading culture. The legacy of the NYR rests on the identification of ways forward for libraries to continue to focus the nation on one of its most enabling attributes – the literacy and reading experiences of its people.


1. McInnes, W 2011, National Year of Reading 2012 <Back>
2. National Year of Reading 2008 <Back>
3. Australian Children's Literature Alliance (ACLA) Children's Laureate <Back>
4. Bookstart UK <Back>
5 Better Beginnings <Back>
6. Let's Read <Back>
7. Centre for Community Child Health <Back>
8. Little Big Book Club <Back>
9. Prime Minister's Literary Awards <Back>
10. Inside a dog, Centre for Youth Literature 2006–2011, State Library of Victoria <Back>
11. Centre for Youth Literature. State Library of Victoria <Back>
12. Read Alert blog 2011, State Library of Victoria <Back>
13. Inside a dog, Centre for Youth Literature 2006–2011, State Library of Victoria <Back>
14. Local Government Cultural Awards <Back>
15. Voices on the Coast <Back>
16. Ipswich Festival of Children's Literature <Back>
17. Fremantle Children's Literature Centre <Back>
18. Reading Writing Hotline <Back>
19. MyLanguage <Back>
20. National Assessment Program 2009 <Back>
21. Indigenous Literacy Foundation <Back>
22. Centre for Aboriginal Literacy <Back>
23. The Aboriginal Literacy Foundation <Back>
24. The Fred Hollows Foundation <Back>
25. The Smith Family <Back>
26. State Library of Queensland <Back>
27. Brimbank Communities for Children How The Smith Family Supports the Early Years <Back>
28. Kids Own Publishing <Back>
29. Bedtime Stories 2009, ABC 360 Documentaries, On the Reading Together initiative at Risdon prison, Tasmania <Back>
30. Vision Australia <Back>
31. Education Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne <Back>
32. Book Bunker Royal Children's Hospital <Back>
33. Illustration by Ann James, from Lucy Goosey (text by Margaret Wild), Little Hare Books, 2007. <Back>
34. Children's Book Council of Australia <Back>
35. Children's Book Festival <Back>
36. UNESCO City of Literature <Back>
37. Children's Book Council of Australia National Conference <Back>
38. Get Reading campaign <Back>
39. Super clubs Plus Australia <Back>
40. Image - Super clubs Plus Australia <Back>



Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, Summary Results, Australia, 2006 (4228.0)


Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) 2009, The Little Book of Public Libraries.
Barratt-Pugh, C et al. 2010, Making a Difference: the report on the evaluation of the better beginnings family literacy program 2007–2010, School of Education, Edith Cowan University, WA.
Centre for Community Child Health 2004, Let’s Read: Literature Review, Royal Children’s Hospital, Victoria.
Gibson, J, Lloyd, B and Richmond, C 2011, Localisation of Indigenous Content: Libraries and Knowledge Centres and the Our Story Database in the Northern Territory, IGI Global.
Heckman, JJ 2008, The Case for Economic Advantage of Investing in Young Children, cited in Big Ideas for Children – Investing in our Nation’s Future (2009), First Focus, Washington DC.
Hill, S 2009, Building Literacy Before School@your Library, Little Big Book Club, SA.
Hill, S 2011, Family literacy in a Digital World, (presentation Sept 2011, Family Literacy Forum, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sunshine Coast Region Libraries).
James, Ann 2007, Lucy Goosey (text by Margaret Wild), Little Hare Books.
Kelly, P et al. 2011, Victorian Government’s Young Readers Program 2007–11 Final Report, State Library of Victoria.
Lester, A 2004, Are We There Yet?, Penguin, Australia.
Little Big Book Club Inc 2006, It’s Rhymetime Booklet and DVD.
McInnes, W 2011, National Year of Reading 2012.
McKerracher, S 2009, Keeping Young Australians Reading, report prepared for the Centre for Youth Literature, State Library of Victoria.
McLaine, S 2010, The Book Well Program, ALIA conference 2010, Brisbane.
Mendelsohn, F 2009, Our Plastic Brains – Redman Barry Lecture 2009.
National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy 2009, Achievement in Reading, Writing, Language Conventions and Numeracy.
Nieuwenhuizen, A 2007, Right Book, Right Time – 500 great reads for teenagers, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
Northern Territory Library 2008, The Walk to School: An Indigenous early years literacy strategy, Northern Territory Library Darwin, NT.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Statistics Canada 2000, Literacy in the Information Age: Final Report of the International Adult Literacy Survey.
OECD 2011, PISA 2009 Results: What Students Know and Can Do: Student Performance in Reading, Mathematics and Science (Volume I)
State Library of Victoria and Library Board of Victoria 2008, Libraries building communities: the vital contribution of Victoria’s public libraries — a research report for the Library Board of Victoria and the Victorian Public Library Network: connecting with community, Melbourne, State Library of Victoria
State Library of Victoria 2008, Libraries Building Communities Report 4: Showcasing the Best, Vol 2.
Victorian Government Young Readers program 2010, Beautiful Samoa, Kids Own Publishing, Victoria
Wolf, M 2007, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, New York: Harper Collins


Children’s Book Council of Australia
Get Reading campaign
Indigenous Literacy Foundation
Kids Own Publishing
Let’s Read
National Year of Reading 2012


Previous Page | Next Page

Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.