Current Reading Research: selected research studies of interest to librarians and others concerned with the promotion of reading

Elizabeth J. Pretorius and Sally Currin

Do the rich get richer and the poor poorer?: The effects of an intervention programme on reading in the home and school language in a high poverty multilingual context


There is little research on differential reading performance in multilingual contexts in less than ideal learning conditions. This article reports on a reading intervention project in a poor multilingual primary school in South Africa where reading levels in Northern Sotho (home language) and English (language of schooling) were initially very low amongst Grade 7 learners. The nature of the reading intervention is briefly sketched and the outcomes after three years of implementation presented. Results at the intervention school showed some Matthew effects in both languages. Differential reading performance is discussed in relation to the high poverty and multilingual context of the school. Although this is a single case longitudinal study, implications for reading interventions and classroom instruction are considered in the context of disadvantaged multilingual primary schools.

Avalable online here.

Susan Gaye La Marca
An enabling adult: the teacher-librarian and the creation of a reading environment
PhD Thesis, Produced in the Department of Language, Literacy and Arts Education, Faculty of Education University of Melbourne, Australia

This study investigates the role of the secondary school teacher-librarian in the creation of a reading environment. The factors that influence how and why a teacher-librarian carries out his or her role are the major focus of the study. These are explored through an analysis of the current literature and in case studies undertaken in six Melbourne secondary schools. The investigation found that each of the case study schools created and operated a reading environment that was affected to varying degrees by all of the identified factors. The factors are:

  • The attitudes of the teacher-librarian towards their professional responsibility in creating a reading environment, and towards their students as readers.
  • The relationships forged between the teacher-librarian and teaching staff, administrators, other library staff and students.
  • The organisational and policy decisions that affect access, such as collection management, reading promotion programs and the knowledge base and advisory role of the teacher-librarian.
  • The ambience within the library space and how this assists the teacher-librarian in creating a welcoming environment conducive to encouraging reading, including factors such as layout and display.
  • The influences external to the library within the school including: budget allocation, staffing levels, support from the school administration, curriculum needs and the demands and limitations of architectural structures.
  • The professional context of the school community and the wider educational and professional debate within which the teacher-librarian operates impact upon the attitudes and decisions of the teacher-librarian. In addition, changes to broad educational objectives, the impact of ICT’s, and the ongoing debate as to the role of the teacher-librarian have had a marked impact upon each of the case study schools and their reading environments.

Research questions

  • What components make up a reading environment in a secondary school library?
  • What does analysis of each case study show the teacher-librarian to be doing within his/her school to create a reading environment?
  • What factors impact upon the teacher-librarian’s ability to create an effective reading environment?
  • How do these impacting factors connect and interact with each other?

‘Current reading research La Marca’

  • How does the attitude of the teacher-librarian affect his/her role?
  • What do others within the school perceive the role of the teacher-librarian to be? How does this work for, or against, the efforts of the teacher-librarian?

Findings (a brief summary)

Through the analysis of the libraries within the six case study schools a picture was built up of an interconnected web of factors that can, and do, affect the type of reading environment that a teacher-librarian might attempt to establish. Though the factors vary in relative importance, depending upon the particular case, each plays a part in the final outcome. The interconnectedness of these factors must be stressed and this is diagrammatically represented in the diagram – framework of influential factors. This diagram illustrates the key factors that were most important in the creation of a reading environment.

The powerful role of teacher-librarians in directing, through their own attitudes and decisions, the nature of the reading environment was identified. Despite this important role of the teacher-librarian, the research also indicated a crucial role for administrators, teachers and the wider school community in influencing the reading environment both directly and indirectly.

In relation to what a teacher-librarian creates within their library to foster reading, and how they go about this, the initial importance of the teacher- librarians own attitude was of note. Whether they perceive the creation of a reading environment to be part of their role, and whether they see it as a role for the library in general, greatly impacted upon what the research participants did within their own libraries.

This attitude, either negative or positive towards creating a reading environment, was the most influential factor connecting all others. The relationships formed with staff and students, the way the library was organised, the programs that were offered and the access provided were all driven by the attitude of the teacher librarian towards the concept of a reading environment.

Papers on this research may be found in the following conference proceedings:

La Marca, Susan (2004) ‘Free voluntary reading and the role of teacher librarian’ in From Aesop to e-book: the story goes on Conference proceeding from the International Association of School Librarianship Conference, Dublin, Ireland.

La Marca, Susan (2003) ‘An Enabling Adult: The Teacher-Librarian and the Reading Environment’ for the Breaking Down the Barriers Conference – International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) Annual Conference, Durban, South Africa, July 2003

La Marca, Susan (2003) ‘An Enabling Adult: The Teacher Librarian and the Reading Environment’ for the Island Journeys Conference – Joint Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) and Australian School Librarianship (ASLA) Conference, Hobart, Tasmania, October 2003.

Susan would be pleased to discuss, or share, any aspect of the research or her findings with interested parties she may be contacted at:

Elkin, J, Train, B and Denham, D.
Reading and Reader Development: The pleasure of reading
London: Facet Publishing, 2003.

This book considers the theory of reading within the context of current reading initiatives and reader development practice. It integrates new definitions of reader development theory with research and practice-based initiatives worldwide, discussing their applicability to all members of society, whatever their age, social background or special need.
Based on new research into reader development, the book combines academic and practice-based knowledge in the area of reading for pleasure.
It includes case studies and interviews with key players in the fields of reading and reader development, presenting transferable models of good practice.
The book provides evidence of the value of reading in the personal, cultural and social development of both the reading adult and the reading child. The contents include:

  • The reader
  • Reader development
  • Reading: a UK national focus
  • An international focus: the IFLA Reading Survey
  • Cultural and multicultural perspectives on reading
  • ICT and reader development
  • Special needs
  • Reading and reader development research: the argument for quality
  • Overview and future development.

May 2003; 256pp; hardback; 1-85604-467-X

Train, B, Usherwood, B and Brooks, G.
The Vital Link: an evaluation report 2002, The University of Sheffield
Full report available at: or

The Vital Link: Reader Development and Basic Skills was an initiative that was funded via a national UK Government award (DCMS/Wolfson Public Libraries Challenge Fund, September 2001 to September 2002). Over a twelve-month period, nine local authorities worked as a consortium, representing four English regions.
Prior to The Vital Link, there appeared to be an obvious relationship between public libraries and the adult Basic Skills sector, but this had not been practicably demonstrated. This initiative explored ways in which this relationship could become more tangible, investigating ways in which staff from both sectors could work together with a common aim. In doing so, considerable progress was made in beginning to reach the target group, and a significant body of transferable knowledge acquired.

Thebridge, S. and Train, B. (2002)
Promoting reading through partnerships: a ten-year literature overview, New Library World, 103 (1175-76), 131-40.

A recent research project examined partnerships between booksellers, publisher, library suppliers and librarians that were being used to promote books and reading. The full project report, Partnership in Promotion, contains an extensive literature review, referring to over 70 items – journal articles, books, conference proceedings, manuals and news items – as well as a range of organizations and resources in the field of reading promotion. In this article, the seminal texts of the last ten years (1992-2001) are reviewed in order to highlight the rise of reader development and the growing partnership working among sectors of the book industry. The purpose of the article is to draw together the principal texts in this largely uncharted area in order to provide practitioners with a concise and reliable guide to developments of the last decade.

Matthew, Kathryn.
"A Comparison of the Influence of Interactive CD-ROM Storybooks and Traditional Print Storybooks on Reading Comprehension." Journal of Research on Computing in Education 29 no. 3 (Spring, 1997): 263-274.

Changing from print to electronic text impacts the way students are reading and their reading comprehension. This article reports on two experiments designed to study the impact of electronic text on the reading comprehension of third-grade students (approximately 9 years old). The first experiment involved 37 matched pairs of students reading either CD-ROM or print versions of books. There was no statistically significant difference in reading comprehension as measured by open-ended questions. However, there was a statistically significant difference in reading comprehension as measured by story retellings. The group that read the CD-ROM versions of the stories were able to retell the stories more completely than the print group. This suggests that the mulitsensory learning experience of the CD-ROM enabled children to literally interact with the text and illustrations and to actively process the text, both of which lead to a personal understanding of the text. The second experiment had the thirty students who read the print stories in Experiment 1 read two additional stories in CD-ROM format. As measured by story retellings, their comprehension was statistically significantly higher when reading the CD-ROM stories. It was noted that when children finished reading the texts and completing the comprehension assessments, they returned to the electronic texts to reread the stories and explore the illustrations. However, students did not return to the printed text and illustrations after completing the assignment with print texts. In the CD-ROMs the narration, online definitions, sound effects and animation provided immediate, consistent support to students as they read. Monitoring by the teacher is needed however to ensure that students do not become so distracted by the animation and sound effects that they fail to read and comprehend the story. Studies should be done to investigate the impact of electronic texts on students’ motivation and interest in reading.

Philliber, William and et. al.
"Consequences of Family Literacy for Adults and Children: Some Preliminary Findings." Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 39 no. 7 (April, 1996): 558-565.

The author reports on data comparing the effectiveness of the Toyota Families for Learning Program with literacy programs which are exclusively adult- or child-oriented. The Toyota Families for Learning Program is aimed at parents and preschool children and includes parent literacy training, early childhood education, parent support groups, and parent-child interaction. The family literacy program retained 67% of participants after 16 weeks and 59% after 20 weeks, compared to 50% and 40% respectively in a similar adult-oriented program. Adults in the family literacy program gained 4.5 points on the CASAS test during the course of the program (a gain equivalent to over one grade level in school) compared to a gain of 2.3 points on the same test in California’s ABE adult literacy program. The TABE test showed that adults in the family literacy program gained an average of 1.15 grade equivalents in reading, while adults in New York City’s Adult Literacy Initiative gained an average of .75 grade levels, less than two-thirds of the Toyota program. Children in the family literacy program made more gains in each dimension of the COR test than children in child-oriented literacy programs and scored higher in each dimension by the end of the program. A major reason for the success of the family literacy program may be the high retention rate; the largest gains were made by participants who stayed the longest.

Reynolds, Kimberley.
"Young People’s Reading at the End of the Century; A Summary of the Children’s Literature Research Centre Survey of Young People’s Reading Habits." Youth Library Review 22 (Autumn, 1996): 6-15.

In England no sustained attempt to study young people’s reading habits has ever been undertaken. This study is the first of a series of five-yearly surveys to provide snapshots of young people’s reading habits. The survey involved 8,834 pupils between the ages of 4 and 16 in a sample designed to represent the school population in England. There was a good representation of enthusiastic, average and reluctant readers. All pupils completed a questionnaire, some were also interviewed. In the youngest age group (4-7) most children chose a book by its illustrations or its cover. The 11-16 year olds chose by cover (36-44%), title (40-49%), blurb (42%), or name of author (41-44%). When asked about the characteristics of the characters in the books, none of the options relating to sex, color, or country of origin were important; "lives at the same time as you" was the only item that was rated important. Overwhelmingly the children said they chose books by themselves, although mothers, teachers, and school librarians were occasionally mentioned. The most popular authors were Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. More girls than boys reported that they read fiction more than 3 hours per week, with figures ranging from 24% for older boys to 62% for younger girls. The percentages tended to drop with age. A copy of the report is available from the Children’s Literature Research Centre, Downshire House, Roehampton Institute, Roehampton Lane, London SW15 4HT.

Waungana, Ellen, ed.
The Influence of Urbanisation on the Decline of Storytelling in Zimbabwe. 62nd General Conference, sponsored by International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), held August 25-31, at Beijing, China. 1996. 12 p.

Before colonization by the British, Zimbabwe culture had mainly been preserved in stories. The role of the storyteller was an important on and telling stories to children provided a bond between generations. When the country emerged from colonialism it found itself in the anomalous situation of having to continue using English as its official language. In order to encourage Zimbabweans to preserve their own languages, storytelling has been encouraged in homes, churches, and children’s centers. Storytelling brings parents and children together and is especially important in the large Zimbabwean families. Stories help each child to feel loved and also help mold children into good citizens. Since the 1970s there has been a dramatic decline in storytelling especially in urban areas. And the country has become increasingly urbanized. Electronic information is available in urban settings and that discourages storytelling. Television has become very popular and is an anti-social experience. Children sit passively in front of the screen. When parents read or tell stories, children are actively engaged in participating in the story. Economic problems have discouraged Zimbabwean families from including an extended family in the home, so grandparents are not available to tell stories. Career-minded parents usually both work and children are left with child-minders who encourage children to watch TV. Almost all of the stories told during the 1940s to the 1960s have disappeared.