About 67,500 new parents (four out of ten nationally) took up the invitation of the Dutch BookStart programme in 2018 to go to the library, register, and collect a small suitcase containing baby books, CDs with children’s songs, and a flyer explaining the relevance of sharing books with babies. The programme has proved to have a high impact in giving young children a better start in primary school and in strengthening the bond between parents and children.
The BookStart (BoekStart) programme is one of the three components of the Dutch national reading promotion programme called “The Art of Reading” (Kunst van Lezen), which is being implemented by the Dutch Reading Foundation (Stichting Lezen) and the National Library (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) since 2009.
In 2016, figures were published that showed that approximately 1.3 million residents of the Netherlands (of a total of over 17 million) between ages of 16 and 65 had low literacy skills, struggling to read, write and communicate in the Dutch language. In response, the government decided to prioritise reading promotion as a means of preventing and combating low literacy, in the context of the Count on Language action programme (Tel mee met Taal).
The Dutch Ministries of Education, Culture and Science, Health, Welfare and Sport, and of Social Affairs and Employment therefore chose to reinforce the role of public libraries as a major force for promoting literacy development. In doing this, they recognised the ability of libraries to offer a lifelong reading environment as well as literacy services for babies, children, young people and adults which could improve language performance and media literacy.
Out of the 147 library organisations nationally, 146 (99,3%) run BookStart for babies programmes. There is also an initiative aimed at older pre-school children, launched in 2011, and which operates both in libraries and in day-care centres. By early 2017, 118 library organisations (80%) were participating in this, together with over 2,150 day-care centres (24% of the total).
A more recent development is the BookStart coach programme, in which a librarian works together with health professionals at youth health and welfare centres. Health professionals can refer families – in particular those with low literacy – to the librarian in order to learn about the BookStart programme, reading aloud, literacy and the benefits of libraries.
Numerous research studies into the benefits of BookStart programme show positive effects on the frequency of parent-child language activities, parental attitudes around sharing books with babies, and language and literacy scores at the start of primary education.
One particular study compared children from families who had collected the BookStart package at the library with children from similar families who were born in areas where BookStart had not yet been adopted. It focused in particular on children with attention disorders, who tend to be at higher risk of experiencing delays in language development, which in turn can lead to poorer results at school.
The researchers found that it was those children with attention disorders who benefitted most from the programme, with the effects of BookStart becoming even more pronounced in the long-term. Thanks to the programme, children who had benefitted from BookStart could also better take advantage of subsequent opportunities to enrich oral language, literacy and comprehension skills.