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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997


Birgitta Irvall, library consultant, Stockholm County Library


This paper describes the nationwide Dyslexia Campaign in Sweden 1996/97. The two goals of the campaign is to create a thorough change in attitudes towards dyslexia and to raise money for education and research. The different activities of the campaign are described and especially how the public libraries took part. The libraries arranged a special dyslexia week with exhibitions, different kinds of open meetings, cooperation with schools and adult education. The special focus of the libraries are media for dyslectics such as talking books and easy-to read-books. The campaign has so far been very successful and the libraries have gotten many new customers with dyslexia to serve.


How the campaign started

Half a million Swedes, regardless of IQ and age, suffer from dyslexia/reading and writing difficulties. This means that 5-8% of the population has this concealed handicap, which often erodes self-esteem. Many dyslectics are very creative people, but they are also overrepresented among the unemployed and among young delinquents. Todays rapid advances in information technology means both threats and posibilities for dyslectics. Those lacking a functional ability to read and write will inevitably be left behind, but the new technology can also be used to help dyslectics.

These facts form the background for the nationwide Dyslexia Campaign in Sweden which was started in the fall of 1996 and will continue till the end of October 1997. Its main goal is to create a thorough change in attitudes to dyslexia. Another goal is to raise funds for research and education. The campaign is supported by the Handicap Ombudsman, The Swedish Handicap Institute and the Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille.The campaign cooperates with over 60 partners, including trade unions, government institutions, educational organisations, county libraries and many private companies. The campaign is also supported by Her Majesty the Queen of Sweden and it is a part of the European Year of Lifelong Learning.

The Dyslexia Fund of Sweden was founded by three organisations: the Swedish Association against Reading and Writing Difficulties (FMLS), the Dyslexia Foundation and the Swedish Dyslexia Association. Chairman of the Fund is Bengt Westerberg, former minister of Social Affairs and ex-leader of the Swedish Liberal party. Campaign leader is Elisabet Reslegård who also originated the whole campaign. Elisabet is the mother of a dyslectic teenager and responsible for information at Kulturhuset, Stockholm.

The campaign in the autumn of 1996

The campaign was launched in August with a dyslexia-pedagogical congress "Make Friends with the Written Word" at Folkets hus in Stockholm, arranged by the Swedish Dyslexia Foundation. The Congress was a great success and assembled nearly 200 delegates: teachers, researchers, librarians, the minister of Education and her Majesty Queen Silvia.

The nationwide campaign started on September 16th, when around 1 200 posters with five different motifs all crosseded over with a red X (a newspaper, a computer, a pen, a letter, a book) appeared on large billboards across Sweden. The aim was to confuse the public. During the night of September 23rd a short, informative text about dyslexia was pasted onto 400 of the posters, which stayed up - as did the remaining 800 - until September 29th.

Also in September all 71 Åhléns department stores throughout Sweden launched a ten-day dyslexia campaign. All stores featured information desks and posters. The Åhléns store in Stockholm city had displays in the store and on the facade and a number of events.

42 Daily newspapers supported the campaign with free advertisements on dyslexia, a total of 89 fullpage adverts.Telia, a newsletter published by Swedens main telephone company, with a circulation of 5 million copies, published a spread on dyslexia. The Association Against Reading and Writing Difficulties(FMLS) started a new periodical and the second issue was a special campaign issue printed in 200 000 copies. It was distributed by organisations supporting the campaign.

The adult educational organisations ABF, TBV etc started study circles on dyslexia in the autumn. They also arranged a series of lectures featuring some of the foremost researchers and educationalists in the field.

Dyslexia was one of the themes at the Book and Library fair in Gothenburg in October. In Sollentuna the Swedish Handicap Institute arranged a fair were dyslexia also was featured. A well attended symposium was held at the annual national conference of Doctors in November.

The campaign in the spring of 1997

The Rodin Academy held a scientific symposium in Stocholm in February. The Academy, with seven Nobel Prize winners, is the international equivalent of the research oriented Swedish Dyslexia Foundation. Researchers from all over the world visited Stockholm. There was also one day with lectures open for the general public.

The Swedish educational radio service (UR) started a radio series about dyslexia in January with 10 programmes transmitted nationwide. They will also produce a TV-programme about dyslexia as a part of a series concerning the brain.

A mobile theatre travelling on a truck visited 40 places all over Sweden during the spring of 1997. They started in Ystad in southern Sweden in February and went all the way to the north. The mobile run by the Swedish National Touring Theatre and the Swedish Travelling Exhibitions is filled with an exhibition, technical aids, literature etc. In the evenings a family play is performed, "Jonas" a free dramatization of the Norwegian author Jens Björneboes novel about Jonas a firstgrader with dyslexia.

The puppet theatre "Långa näsan" has produced a puppet play based on Jonas: "Jonas, are you stupid or…" They perform both in their theatre in central Stockholm and in schools in and around Stockholm.

During the month of february 358 Post Offices had stands with campaign folders.

The campaign in the autumn of 1997

A wellknown Swedish childrens author has written a novel especially for the campaign and this novel will be given to all 117 500 children about to begin primary school in the autumn of 1997. The publishing of the novel is sponsored by the Post Office, the publishers Rabén & Sjögren and two national library organisations.

A tour of higher secondary schools and schools with grade six in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö will begin in early autumn. This tour will include a performance with live actors and filmed scenes and multi-media.

There will also be an adveritisement campaign featuring Swedish and foreign celebrities with various jobs, suffering from dyslexia in about 50 weekly and monthly magazines.Negotiations are going on with a Swedish TV-channel about a gala in wich all those taking part will be dyslexia sufferers.

The Book and Library Trade Fair in Gothenburg featured dyslexia in 1996 and will do so again and mark the end of the campaign in 1997. A concluding debate with Swedens minister of education will be held under the title: The right to the written word.

The libraries and the dyslexia campaign

Right from the start the public libraries in Sweden were participating in the campaign. The campaign leader Elisabet Reslegård came to a meeting of all the county libraries in the autumn of 1995. We were all inspired by her candid presentation of the campaign and wanted to take part. The Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille supported the campaign from the beginning. Public libraries in Sweden have lent talking books to visually handicapped but also to dyslectics since the 70ies. But it has been hard to reach dyslectics especially grown ups, with the information that they have the right to borrow talking books. Many dyslectics try to hide their problems and don´t visit libraries.

In the spring of 1996 the county libraries held conferences for library personnel with information about reading and writing difficulties and about what libraries could do. Libraries also were urged to buy moore talking books and especially talking books for reading training, with the text read two or three times in different speed. In the county of Sörmland a special model for county-wide cooperation was launched. A network for cooperation consisting of representatives from the county library, schools at different levels, the Social security office, the unemployment agency and others, was formed. One group worked with children, one with adults with dyslexia. The agencies could cooperate to change attitudes towards dyslectics, inform each other about their own work, arrange conferences together for their own personnel and for the general public. They also decided to set their own goals with regard to dyslexia.. The network initiaded local networks in the municipalities in the county of Sörmland, working in the same way to get better cooperation between schools, libraries and other institutions deeling with dyslectics.

For the libraries the most important thing is to inform schools of library media for dyslectics. Everybody with a reading problem has the right to borrow any talking book for studies or pleasure reading. Then there is also a special kind of talking book for reading training. The book is read in normal speed and in low speed so that you should listen and follow the lines in the book while you listen. These books have been produced by the Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille since the 1980ies but still many teachers don’t know about them.

In september 1996 public libraries in Sweden launched a special library week to start the campaign. There were programmes in the evenings with speakers from FMLS, teachers or researchers, for parents and everybody interested in the subject. The libraries also had exhibitions and the talking book shelves were specially marked. In some libraries parents could talk to a teacher with extra training on dyslexia about their childrens reading problems. Libraries used the week to give special attention to dyslexia and the media the libraries have for dyslectics.

Almost all Swedish public libraries have taken part in the campaign in some way. They have bought moore talking books, staged exhibitions on dyslexia, arranged programmes in the libraries, educated all library personnel in the field of dyslexia. Contacts between all kinds of schools and the libraries have been taken.

Three county libraries got project money for a book written by dyslectics about library visits: "I wasn’t stupid, was I .. " Thirteen adult dyslectics went to a library and asked for a book of their choice and checked how the library helped them. They all had very bad memories of their own school libraries were they had to borrow books they couldn’t reed. The book is full of feelings and very personal, many librarians they meet don’t understand their problems and fail to give the right help. A very useful book for librarians wanting to serve all customers well. The book was sent to all public and school libraries.

Many libraries now get new dyslectic borrowers of talking books. The persons doesn’t feel ashamed of their handicap any moore, which is fantastic. We have had examples of people coming to the library for the first time telling the librarian that they are dyslectics and have never red a novel, asking for advice where to start.

The campaign has been very successful also for the libraries, we have gotten many new borrowers, better contacts with teachers also with adult education. It is accepted to use talking books both for pleasure reading and to train reading skills. New cooperation projects between schools and libraries are started in some counties. But most important of all is that I think that the campaign has reached its goal to wash away the shame mark of the handicap dyslexia. Now it is accepted as a handicap and there are methods to train reading and writing scills for all dyslectics. The libraries have media for everybody and will continue to work together with schools and adult education centers.