Low literacy creates significant barriers to employment, access to government services, and broader social and civic integration, leaving people with limited literacy and digital skills at risk of marginalisation. In the Netherlands, approximately 1.3 million people aged between 16 and 65 struggle to read, write and communicate in the Dutch language. This represents 1 in 13 residents.
Research studies consistently suggest that frequent reading is associated with stronger language development, such as vocabulary, reading comprehension, decoding skills, spelling, grammatical knowledge and writing skills. However, OECD statistics indicate that 49% of adolescents in the Netherlands read only rarely or not at all in their free leisure time.
Considering this high percentage and the overall increase in “alliterate” (that is, being able to read but not motivated to do so) students, it is therefore a challenge for schools to stimulate reading of books not only in lower grades of primary education but thereafter.
The government has made reading promotion a key part of its Count on Skills action programme (Tel mee met Taal), which aims to combat and prevent low literacy. They aim to provide literacy services and resources for babies, children, young people and adults intended to improve language performance and media literacy.
The Library at School (de Bibliotheek op school) programme has been a particular success. It is managed by the Dutch Reading Foundation (Stichting Lezen) and the National Library (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) and sets out a strategic reading and media plan that specifies the steps needed to create an optimum reading and media environment in schools.
This is necessary because many school libraries in the Netherlands are generally not run by teacher-librarians but by a librarian from the public library, volunteers (parents), pupils or school librarians. The Library at School programme aims to professionalise approaches to reading promotion by improving cooperation between schools and public libraries and by creating high quality libraries in schools.
In 2018, the programme reached about 655,000 children. This is 37,500 children more than in 2017, and 92,500 more than in 2016. At the level of primary school children, 128 library organisations (87% of the total) participate, involving 3,043 primary schools (44% of the total). At the secondary school level, 56 library organisations (39% of the total) participate in the approach, engaging 183 secondary schools (12% of the total).
Research into the effects of The Library at School has shown positive results. Fourth and fifth-grade students from participating schools with an enriched and updated school library, were compared to students from control schools with a typical school library. Researchers looked in particular at reading motivation, reading frequency, and academic skills.
They found that students from schools with enriched libraries scored higher on a standardised reading comprehension test than students from control schools. This shows that a library with a rich and varied collection is vital for students’ reading proficiency and thereby for a successful academic and professional career of the students.