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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 012-80-E
Division Number: VII.
Professional Group: Reading
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 80.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Bringing Writers and Readers Together:
The role of Stichting Schrijvers School Samenleving

Margreet Ruardi
Director Stichting Schrijvers School Samenleving
Amsterdam, Netherlands


Object: promotion of reading

Stichting Schrijvers School Samenleving (SSS) means the Foundation for Literature in School and Society. Its main objective is 'the promotion of interest in reading, and particularly in literature'.

SSS's first task is the organisation of lectures by writers and poets in s-chools (at both the primary and secondary levels), libraries, socio-cultural organisations and business-companies.

This work began in 1968 as a writer's initiative working through the writer's union. In those days, getting some extra income by giving lectures, was for almost all the writers an important motive to join the activities. Nowa-days in the Netherlands there is the Literary Fund, which can supply working grants to wri-ters of literature. Getting an income is no longer the main reason for writers to visit schools and other organi-sations. Neither is it the first object of SSS. But SSS garantees authors a fair financial com-pensa-tion for their work.

Bringing writers and readers together

Nowadays SSS has an office with six employees. The office mediates in the organisation of the lectures. How does this mediation work?

SSS has two writers' lists, one for the 'children's sector' and one for the adults. These lists are sent to all the institutions mentioned above. These lists give information on the writers and poets: subjects which they wish to cover, a brief biography and a bibliography. The lists also contain general information on how to organise and prepare a writer's lecture.

The schools and other institutions can choose from these lists. But most of the time SSS begins by advising them by telephone, which is a very important instrument in the communication 'with the country'; even more important than 'younger' instruments of communication. Conversation (and the human voice and intonation) offers the possibility of direct feed-back, which is a necessary condition for a convincing advice.

Teachers, librarians and other organisers can submit their choice on an application form.
SSS then contacts the author, who decides whether or not to accept the invitation, in each situation. If he or she accepts, SSS draws up a contract. In some cases, particularly for schools, SSS can subsidise part of the author's fees.

SSS supports the institutions in their organisational activities. SSS supplies posters and up-to-date biographies and can also give advice on which books are suitable for use during preparation.


How should a school work towards an author's visit? Basically, this comes down to a simple advice: read pieces of the author's work on a regular basis; this works as an appetizer. And make sure that there are enough of the writer's books available. Let the children nose in them and make their choice. Organise regular reading groups, in which the children can give their opinion on the books they have read. In this way they arouse enthusiasm in each other to continue to read. Some questions will remain unanswered until the writer's visit: why does this writer often write about animals, lonely people or whatever?

Thus SSS creates a well-prepared group for the writer when he visits. And if he gives a good lecture and answers the questions effectively, his visit will serve as an impulse for further reading.
In other words, each lecture has a preparatory phase and a follow-on phase which both consist of reading. This is indeed a very concrete form of stimulation of reading.

A writer visiting their school is both a broadening and a deepening of the children's reading and literature education. It gives young people insight into the progress of a creative process. It's usually an exciting experience, which they will remember for a very long time.
A visit by a writer is the ide-al opportunity to talk about books and novels as a whole. Generally there is little time for this in the rest of the language-education and even in literature education in high schools.

Outside of school

Things are a little different in the sector outside of school, though once again SSS supports institutions in their preparation activities. Libraries in particular organise many lectures by authors, often in co-operation with bookshops. During the interval, the audience can buy books and have them signed. Popular authors sell up to 200 books per evening this way.

Some more statistics: SSS mediates in around 3800 activities per year.
Giving lectures is a rather important source of income for the writers. Together they earn more than 2,5 million Dutch guilders a year. There are almost 500 writers involved.
The biggest share of the fees (and often the whole fee) is charged to the organisers. SSS collects this money and pays it entirely and directly to the writers. A relatively small share is the subsidy received from the foundation; SSS gets that money from the Ministry of Education, Culture and the Sciences.

Probably there is no other country where the 'lecturing world' is so flourishing. On the one hand, it is to be due to the subsidy which is made available by the ministry, to organise and coordinate this all. The other reason is a very trivial one. Look at the size of the Netherlands, with the greatest distance being around 300 km: the chances are only slight that an author will have to stay overnight somewhere. More often than not, he's back in his own bed at night.

The SSS-concept is simple but as in the case of many simple things, it is very effective. Not only for the readers present during the lecture, but also because an author's visit is an interesting newsitem for the written press and (local) broadcasting stations.


There is another side to SSS. SSS also manufactures products for the purpose of stimulation of reading. The efforts in this are aimed at the education system and mainly comprise informa-tion booklets and video tapes.

During several years SSS published The Book at School series, which covered the importance of a good school library. Each year this was explained on the basis of a specific subject, such as 'poetry' or 'parents, school and reading'. These booklets were sent free of charge to all (around 8500) primary schools.

SSS produces video tapes, sometimes as a co-production with a broadcasting company.
Some of these tapes (in particular those for the younger children) deal with the production of books, in both an artistic and a technical sense.

The tapes teach children the terminology concerned with a book, which is an important factor in increasing access to the book itself. The tapes are also an effective part of the preparation for the writer's visit. Writers who do their very best to explain how they came up with ideas for their books then often find themselves confronted with questions such as: how did you stick all those covers on?
The tapes show the design process, printing and binding, but also reading-promotion. They portray the amount of creativity, work and expertise which goes into a product which otherwise seems so simple.

For 15-18 years old high school students there are nine video-tapes on modern Dutch writers. Each portrait consists of a short, funny biography in animation-technique, a short interview (edited in 'one-liners') with the writer in an appropriate setting, and a video-version - a little bit like a videoclip - of a part of a novel. There is a ring-binder belonging to the video's, with tasks the students can carry out independently.


The Netherlands have an elaborated network (national, regional and local) for the promotion of reading. SSS has a special and fruitful relationship to stichting CPNB, which provides the promotion of books by - amongst other things - organising big events wich have an enormous (media) impact, for example the annual Book Week (March) and Children's Book Week (Octo-ber). During these events lots of writers are invited by schools, libraries etc., to meet their (potential) readers. Also at the end of the National Children's Jury (another CPNB-initiative) many schools and libraries invite writers for a visit.

The annual Children's Book Week always has an inspiring theme and slogan. For example: Children's Book's Week 1998 will be dedicated to poetry ('rhyme and rap'). SSS, expert on education, produces the newsletter for the schools that consists of information on children's books on poetry and how to use them in school.
Since 1997 there is a new CPNB-campaign: the Young Jury. It challenges 12-15 years old kids to read and to choose their favourite book. Also for this campaign SSS produces the newsletter whith a lot of information on how to organise the Young Jury in school and library.

Some final words

SSS's main objective is to stimulate reading.
Is that really necessary in a country with a very well developed educational system which is compulsory until the age of 16?
It certainly is: children learn to read at school. However, the skills required to 'decode' words and sentences and to understand short texts, will not automatically result in a willingness to read entire books. As already mentioned, the educational system has little time to pay extensive attenti-on to this subject.
This is a shortage solved by writers' visits.

SSS hopes that its efforts will encourage young people to read more in their leisure time, so that reading will not be lost in the jungle of recreational options, like watching television, playing computer games, doing sports, etc.

There is probably no other art which makes such a intensive demand on our powers of imagination as literature does. This is important not only for individuals but also for society as a whole. This essential matter is a reason for the Dutch government's willingness to grant the subsidy.