The Systematic Joy of Reading Award helps provide books for children in South Africa

On Sunday 2 June at Dokk1 in Aarhus, Denmark, the Nal’ibali - Reading for Enjoyment Campaign project in South Africa was honoured for its work with fundamentally transforming the culture of reading in South Africa. The USD 10,000 prize that accompanies this award will send more books into the hands of the country’s children, says Nal’ibali director Jade Jacobsohn.

Press release03 June 2019

When Jade Jacobsohn from the South African reading project Nal’ibali - Reading For Enjoyment Campaign received the Systematic Joy of Reading Award at Dokk1 in Aarhus, Denmark, on 2 June, the joy was unmistakable.

“When you work hard and are passionate about a good cause, you often forget to stop and look up to see what’s been accomplished. Winning the Joy of Reading Award was a welcome opportunity to reflect on the results that the many hours, long days and the good teamwork have resulted in,” explained Nal’ibali director Jade Jacobsohn, after receiving the award at the bi-annual international Next Library® conference.

28 projects from around the world contested for the award, which focuses on initiatives that disseminate the joy and the opportunity to read and is thus part of the wider struggle against illiteracy.

The award was presented to the winner by the president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), Glòria Pérez-Salmerón from Spain.

Apartheid gave rise to widespread illiteracy

The jury explained the selection of Nal’ibali - Reading for the Enjoyment Campaign as the winner with the fact that the project reaches out to many South African children, young people and families with messages, guidance and practical tools that encourage and support family reading.

Nal’ibali produces and distributes stories for children in different languages and enables children and adolescents to participate in one of the 3700 reading clubs the project has established in nine of South Africa’s provinces. By the end of 2018, more than 140,000 children were attending Nal’ibali reading clubs and nearly half a million books had been distributed to children and families via the project.

Unfortunately, all this is badly needed. The latest study of South African children’s reading skills shows that 78% of all fourth-grade children are unable to read and understand the meaning of a text in any language. Part of the reason, according to Jade Jacobsohn, lies in the legacy of the apartheid regime’s oppression of the African population, including the repression of those cultures and languages.

Nal’ibali publishes material in all these 11 languages, and the core of the project lies in maintaining people’s opportunities to read and express themselves in the languages prevailing in the area where they grow up.


Storytelling in everyday life

Nal’ibali is the largest reading campaign in South Africa, and the demand for the project’s services is considerable. Visit the project's website here.

“Although we are the largest reading campaign in South Africa, we are only able to reach a small part of the country’s children, and so we continue to put our hearts and minds together in the hope of finding strategic partnerships that enable us to increase our influence in society and to get more books out to the many eager little hands,” says Jade Jacobsohn.

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Nal’ibali means “Here is the story” in isiXhosa – one of the 11 official languages of South Africa.

The project is based on the fact that everybody has a story to tell – regardless of whether you know how to read or write. And such storytelling is the key to building a strong reading culture. The project therefore focuses on storytelling and reading as natural parts of everyday life.

Good reading habits start at home

Nal’ibali makes illustrated stories and audiobooks available in print and online, and guides families and caregivers on how to enhance narrative and reading habits in children, adolescents and in the family in general.

“Children are influenced by their parents’ focus and habits in everyday life. Nal’ibali is doing a wonderful job helping families to establish good reading habits as part of their everyday lives. 

Implementing storytelling and the joy of reading at home will benefit the children greatly throughout their lives,” explains jury chairperson Marian Morgan-Bindon, who is also the head of the libraries in Oxfordshire County Council in the UK.

She believes that the Systematic Joy of Reading Award helps raise awareness that reading is of great importance to the day-to-day life of the individual.

“The award recognises the many different ways people are working to spread reading pleasure around the world. There are many good examples among the nominees, which others can be inspired by and implement in their local area. The award helps give winners opportunities to extend the scope of their project and thus reach even more people,” she says.

The ability to read opens doors

Danish software company Systematic, one of whose activities involves developing library solutions, is behind the Joy of Reading Award, which was set up to recognise international initiatives that work to spread the pleasure of reading and to bring an end to illiteracy.

“The ability to read is a door-opener to a wealth of opportunities in life, and it is important that children are told stories and learn to reflect on the stories they are presented with, right from a very young age. Nal’ibali is a very fine example of a reading project with just this kind of focus,” explains Michael Holm, CEO of Systematic.

The purpose of the Nal’bali - Reading for Enjoyment Campaign is to fundamentally change the reading culture in South Africa – one story at a time. It has been running since 2012, and 20% of all South Africans are thought to have since been in contact with the project.

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What made the jury agree onthe Na’libali project as the winner of the award?

The jury especially liked the way this project:

  • Focuses on the parent as a role model for reading
  • Creates conditions for children to develop a love of reading
  • Focuses on all ages, from babies to older high-school children
  • Features a broad conception of material that can stimulate the joy of reading (games, songs and oral storytelling)
  • Recognises the power of communities to make a difference
  • Ensures a sustained impact across a broad spectrum of contexts
  • Focuses on the impact that the social and physical environments have on reading.

About the Joy of Reading Award

The Joy of Reading Award was set up by Systematic in collaboration with Next Library® – an international library conference at which professionals from all over the world gather every two years in Aarhus, Denmark. The award is accompanied by a USD 10,000 cash prize, and the winner is selected by an international jury.

The award was presented for the first time in 2017 by Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, who is the founder of The Reading & Writing Foundation.



Read more about the Joy of Reading Award here.

For further information please contact Systematic PR & Communications Manager

Maia Lindstrøm Sejersen
Phone number: +45 41 96 50 13

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