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Programmes and projects – the Big Five

LIBRARY and information services run five city-wide programmes embracing the strategic priorities noted in the City’s Human Development Strategy (2006):


  •     To build prospects for social inclusion amongst all Johannesburg communities
  •     To address inequalities through the championing of rights and opportunities, with special focus on women and children
  •     To improve access by poor and vulnerable households to library and information services

The programmes are:

  •     Ready to Read: early childhood reading development programme
  •     Battle of the Books: primary schools’ reading development programme
  •     The Story Skirmish
  •     Joburg Libraries Psyched for Science
  •     JoLife – the Johannesburg Literary Festival

Ready to Read: early childhood reading development programme

The Ready to Read programme is aimed at children who do not have access to books. The programme offers material for use in day-care centres, crèches and nursery schools, and also provides training in the selection and use of the material for both library staff and teachers.

The motivation for this focus is the vital role that pre-literacy skills play in children’s reading and general academic development. Early behaviours and skills associated with successful reading development are called pre-literacy. This umbrella term covers far more than a child's ability to identify letters, numbers, or shapes. It includes important skills such as oral language and phonological and phonemic awareness (the awareness of sounds), as well as knowledge of the alphabet and an understanding of common print concepts (print goes from left to right and from up to down on a page).  
The Ready to Read programme gives children in disadvantaged communities where homes are not language and print rich environments, a head start in preparation for reading and academic success at school by:

  •     Providing materials, in the form of picture and theme books in languages in use in the community;
  •     Providing training for library staff so that they are able to guide teachers in the use of the materials provided;
  •     Provide training to teachers in the use of the books provided, and giving guidance in the use of the materials provided through talks/ workshops and a manual to support the development of pre-literacy skills.

Book packs for loans to crèches or organised groups of pre-school children are purchased and provided. The books include:

  •     Picture story books in English and other languages in use in the community;
  •     Picture books based on themes of importance to pre-school children for example, colours, shapes, numbers, abc, nature study, life experiences and so on;
  •     Trained library staff to guide teachers in how to use the books with their children;
  •     A manual for teachers offering guidance in use of the materials.

Battle of the Books  
The Battle of the Books is a book-based inter-school, knock-out quiz.

The aims are to broaden children’s reading experience as well as to encourage cooperation between schools and libraries.

It is open to learners in Grades 6 and 7 in the greater Johannesburg region and is run by the City of Johannesburg library and information services.

Teams consist of 4-6 members with 1 or 2 reserves.

Between the participants, the team must read the 25 listed titles on which the quiz is based.

These books are carefully chosen (annually) by librarians to include a wide range of genres, levels of difficulty and writing styles and are provided to the schools by the library and information services.

At least half of the titles are South African in order to promote South African writers and develop a market that is receptive to South African literature. Schools may hold preliminary intra-school rounds to choose the team.  A list of questions, rules and sample score sheet are provided for this.  The first round takes place in the nearest participating library after the winter break with the final at the end of October.

It turns non-readers into readers and broadens the reading interests of those who read already.  Teachers have reported a noticeable improvement in comprehension skills and reading scores after the Battle.  And, what is more, it is fun.  Children love the cut and thrust of the Battles.  It gives learners who may not have the opportunity to represent their school in any other field a chance to do so as a member of the “Battle” team.

A general pattern is followed each year. The reading list is finalised in December for the next year. Schools have the first half of the year to read the books and hold intra-school rounds. At present there are three other rounds though if more schools enter it will be necessary to add an additional round. These rounds, the library, regional and metropolitan rounds take place between August and the end of October.

Prizes: All entrants are given certificates. Prizes depend on sponsorship received, for example, books and vouchers from Exclusive Books and Heinemann Publishers. There is a floating trophy called the De Beers Shield - the De Beers Trust supplied sponsorship when the trophy was first presented. 

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