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Inverclyde Libraries build literacy with Six Book Challenge

For the last five years Inverclyde Libraries has been working with the council's Community Learning and Development (CLD) service to deliver the Six Book Challenge to literacy learners. It started on a pilot basis with a single literacy group with many of those honoured at the awards ceremony saying how happy they were to receive a certificate for the first time.

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Reading Ahead is the new name for the Six Book Challenge.

For the last five years Inverclyde Libraries has been working with the council's Community Learning and Development (CLD) service to deliver the Six Book Challenge to literacy learners. It started on a pilot basis with a single literacy group with many of those honoured at the awards ceremony saying how happy they were to receive a certificate for the first time.

Introducing learners to libraries

"My predecessor found that it was a good way to introduce literacy learners to all our libraries have to offer," explains learning services librarian Pamela McLean (pictured below), who took over lead responsibility for the programme in July 2013. "Some of them were coming to a library as a venue for their literacy classes, but were often not aware of its full range of resources, or not confident enough to make use of them."

Next, the Six Book Challenge was delivered to all literacy classes meeting in libraries in Inverclyde. Presenting it to learners as something that was not compulsory, but for which ongoing support would be available if they did decide to opt in worked well.

Working with schools and community centres

The programme is now actively offered to literacy classes meeting in Inverclyde schools and community centres, as well as in libraries. This involves a year-round schedule of planning and promotional visits. "My getting out and about to talk about the Challenge has been really important," Pamela explains. "It's just as important to promote it to tutors as to learners - many of the tutors are now very familiar with it, but there are always new ones joining.

"Dedicated, week-on-week support from tutors has been really important, and also library staff being engaged with the Challenge, helping to check participants' diaries, and supporting them to access reading from authors or genres they've found themselves enjoying."

"The Challenge was made for people like me"

It has clearly made a huge difference to individual learners' lives. Eddie Tucker, 63, completed the Challenge while attending classes at Greenock Central Library.

"I could never read one book before never mind six! I am dyslexic, never was good at reading and have tried for years to help myself to read. A lot of other things came into play - time, enthusiasm, making choices and the determination to finish all six books. It was a long haul to the end but I did it. The Six Book Challenge was made for me and people like me.

"My tips are to read books at your level and change the book if you don't like it or is too heavy going for you. You have to like what you are doing and that's what I liked about the Challenge. You make the decision. But there is always help, support, guidance, advice at hand."

"I read any chance I get"

Fellow student Victoria McKinnon, 32, completed the Challenge using text and voice activation software. "I have taken part for the last three years but this is the first year I have completed it! I decided to read books from the 'books to read before you die' list - classics like Moby Dick and To Kill A Mockingbird, which was my favourite.

"I was really happy when I finished and I don't feel so isolated. I come from a family of big readers so I always felt left out. With the use of technology and the increase of audiobooks it has removed the stigma. I can highlight a sentence and the voice activation sounds out the word, allowing me to listen to words to learn them in written form. I'm enjoying reading much more, and I read any chance I can get - I am making up for lost time."

Promoting library membership and services

The programme is now enshrined in Inverclyde Libraries' service plan, and is seen as a key way of achieving its learning goals. Pamela is also hoping to extend it to local ESOL classes. "It allows us to formally recognise the achievements of our learners," she says. "It also strengthens the existing partnership between ourselves and CLD and promotes library membership and services to people who aren't currently using them."

Get involved

Find out how to set up Reading Ahead, the new name for the Six Book Challenge, at your organisation

Generate discussion about books at your organisation by setting up a reading group

The Reading Agency is a leading independent charity whose pioneering work brings the joy of reading to the widest possible audiences across the UK, in partnership with the public library service. The charity’s mission is to create and deliver innovative reading opportunities that inspire more people to read more, encourage them to share their enjoyment of reading with others and celebrate the difference that reading makes to all our lives. The Reading Agency is funded by the Arts Council. www.readingagency.org.uk

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