A Book In Every Backpack – Upper Hutt City Library

The 3M Excellence and Innovation Award is highly coveted within New Zealand libraries. Winning the Award gives the winner bragging rights and sparks “dare to do different” library programmes and services throughout the profession.

With applications for the 3M Excellence and Innovation Award closing on 30 June 2011, I’ve invited Debbie Duncan, Upper Hutt City Library Manager, to tell us a little bit about the impact of applying for, and winning the 3M Excellence and Innovation Award in 2010.

Upper Hutt City Library won the 2010 3M Excellence and Innovation Award for its “A Book in Every Backpack” programme. Can you tell us more about this?
The programme arose out of an exercise we did to identify those groups in the community who had the greatest need for library services but faced the greatest barriers to accessing mainstream services – and children were right up there. However a primary barrier to library use is parents and caregivers who don’t understand or encourage reading and library use, or perhaps can’t get to the library, or who aren’t in a position to pay charges. Early literacy is a key role of public libraries and we wanted to develop a literacy programme that addressed each of these issues.

As parents are used to regularly receiving notices home from school, we have worked with our local primary schools to act as the conduit for us. We send out information about the services we have to offer with their school notices to make it easier for parents to learn about the library. To minimise the fear of library charges we offer a special junior membership which limits borrowing to two books at a time and incurs no charges. Children are then given a personalised library card and book bag with appropriate reader’s advisory material. This is then followed up with ongoing class visits, either to the library or for those further afield – visits to the Mobile. We are thrilled to have 12 of our 13 primary schools on board and 3000 children currently participating in this programme.

What motivated you to apply for the 3M Excellence and Innovation Award?
We started “A Book in Every Backpack” in 2008 and the feedback we received indicated that this was the only programme of its type and scale. We had just won the Community Relations Award at SOLGM prior to applying for the 3M Award and we thought this would be a good opportunity to gain some further recognition, especially within the profession.

What did winning the Award mean for your library and staff?
I think it reaffirmed that you don’t have to be a big library to do something amazing. We’ve achieved this without a large amount of resources. Primarily by being customer-focussed and strengthening what we already do well, working with the community.

Were there other ways in which winning the Award has promoted or enhanced your library?
It’s definitely broadened the relationships we have within our community, especially schools. We recently communicated our activities for NZ Book Month through schools, and any activities targeted at school children were quickly filled. We’ve also noticed children are more comfortable and relaxed when they come into our libraries, it’s almost as if this is their territory; they behave as if “we belong here” – which is really great to see. And I think the information we’ve sent to children has also made some parents realise that the library may have more to offer than they think as our adult membership has increased too.

For libraries thinking about applying for the 3M Award this year, can you give them two or three reasons that would encourage them to make the effort?
The process of applying is an opportunity to take stock of what you’ve achieved – to look at the how, why, and outcomes of the project. It’s something that we should do for all our projects, but we often don’t. It’s also a validation of what you’re doing. There are so many things we’re proud of at Upper Hutt City Library and winning the 3M Award validates those achievements.

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I hope that this article will encourage you to apply for the 3M Award for Excellence and Innovation. Applications are due on 30 June 2011. More information on the application process is available from LIANZA.

A version of this article appeared in Library Life: Te Rau Ora, 3 May 2011.