Detail from a photo showing colour books with the Communities of readers sticker on them.

Canterbury Communities of Readers Project report

The purpose of this report is to highlight the findings and insights of the Communities of Readers (COR) Project undertaken in Canterbury.

A report commissioned by the National Library of New Zealand as part of its Communities of Readers initiative. Please note, the views expressed in this report are not necessarily the views of the National Library.


The Canterbury Communities of Readers project is a National Library of New Zealand initiative that aims to engage children and young people in or on the edge of care, along with families and caregivers, in reading for pleasure and wellbeing. Funded by the Te Puna Foundation and in collaboration with local project partners, the initiative is working to strengthen reading for fun through a co-design process.


A significant body of research highlights the considerable benefits of reading for enjoyment or pleasure. These include improved wellbeing, increased ability to empathise, greater knowledge of other cultures, improved parent-child communications and children’s increased social capital (Wilkinson, 2015). In addition, reading for fun provides an important foundation for digital literacy and critical thinking, crucial for participation in today’s complex world of information.

A recent report on the Literacy Landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand shows that nearly half of 15-year olds never read for pleasure. Not all children, young people and communities in New Zealand have the same opportunities to develop a love of reading. There are inequities in access to books, libraries, expertise, support and reading role-models.

The national Community of Readers initiative was developed in mid-2019 by National Library, funded by the Te Puna Foundation and delivered in collaboration with partners. It works with four communities nationally, including Canterbury, through a 2–3 year co-design process. The project aims to demonstrate that through connecting communities with the resources and expertise of local and national organisations, these communities can create and sustain better reading outcomes for children and young people. In addition, it also seeks to build and strengthen relationships between young people and their whānau, educators and carers.

In particular, the Canterbury Community of Readers project was designed to create a reading community which ensures children and young people have the support, encouragement, reading resources and inspiration to read for pleasure. This is one of the most powerful ways of improving reading, vocabulary, knowledge of self, others and the world, educational outcomes and wellbeing.

This report covers the establishment phase and very early activities of the Canterbury COR, reflecting on its progress and direction. It is based on observational field notes, project documentation, along with seven semi-structured interviews and written feedback from a stakeholders from National Library (5), Oranga Tamariki (2) and Kingslea school (4). A final report on the activities, outcomes and impact of the project will be undertaken in December 2021.

Establishing the project

The Canterbury COR project is a partnership between National Library and Kingslea School, working with regional stakeholders, including Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Education, supported overall by National Library of New Zealand at the Department of Internal Affairs.

In late 2019, National Library initiated meetings with national office representatives from Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry of Education and the Principal of Kingslea School to explore the options for a Communities of Readers project to support reading and provide books to vulnerable young people in the care of Oranga Tamariki. These discussions built on previous collaborations, including National Library providing foundation libraries to a number of Oranga Tamariki remand homes and youth justice facilities during 2018–2019, continuing into 2020–2021.

By early 2020 it was agreed that the initial focus should be on the Christchurch area, with the possibility of rolling out the project to other locations once this was underway. Kingslea School offered to provide a hub for the project at Kingslea School’s Arahina ki Ōtautahi campus. In March 2020, National Library representatives visited Te Puna Wai ō Tuhinapo (Kingslea School’s learning centre in the Youth Justice Facility in Rolleston), Te Oranga (Kingslea School’s Care and Protection learning facility in Burwood) and Arahina ki Ōtautahi (Kingslea School’s learning facility in Richmond). They also met with the Ministry of Education’s Regional Director.

The Canterbury COR commenced with the agreement between National Library and Kingslea School in September 2020, with the first Stakeholder Group meeting, comprising members of National Library, Kingslea School and Oranga Tamariki staff, meeting the following month.

The project

The kaupapa of the project was developed by the Stakeholder Group. The vision is to weave a whāriki (a ground-covering mat) of support to inspire a love of reading among tamariki and rangatahi in care, or on the edge of care. Its mission is to work with partners, stakeholders and support agencies in the Canterbury area to provide books, reading environments and reading for pleasure experiences to this group, with a hub at Arahina ki Ōtautahi.

The Canterbury COR project aims to work with children and young people aged 3 through to 18 in diverse settings and communities. Most of the project activity in COR will be completed in 2021 including planning for longer term and sustainable support so the project can transition to a business-as-usual model.

The project has undertaken to:

  • Consult with tamariki and rangatahi
  • Co-design and collaborate to shape the project activities, using the expertise of partners and stakeholders
  • Connect with young people in care and on the edge of care and their caregivers, in the places where they already go, and use existing networks and relationships in a multi-agency approach
  • Use the learnings from the project in Canterbury to inform future services and support in other locations, and
  • Work collaboratively to expand the benefits and impact of the project.

Project scope

The project aims to connect with as many young people in care, or on the edge of care, and their caregivers as possible in the Canterbury region and provide them with access to a choice of appealing books which they can keep and enjoy. Thousands of books are being selected, sourced, transported and prepared for distribution by National Library specialists. Books provided are in English, Te Reo and other home and heart languages, and include dual language books where available.

There are around 600 children supported by five Oranga Tamariki service centres in greater Christchurch. Many of the children are in short-term transit between difficult family situations and more permanent care situations. About 450 caregivers support these children. The Canterbury Communities of Readers project aims to connect with these children and young people through Oranga Tamariki, Kingslea School, the Ministry of Education and a wide range of support agencies that operate in the region, via the relationships of the partners and stakeholders. The main focus of the project is on young people aged 8–18 years, but interested younger children will also be welcomed.

The books will be made available to children and young people at school, where they are living or during their contact with support and educational agencies. National Library will provide books for distribution to Kingslea School, Oranga Tamariki social workers, the Gateway Assessment Unit at Christchurch Hospital, Family Care homes, Work and Income offices and through channels that emerge over the course of the project.

Targeting caregivers for support is considered critical in enabling this work. The aim is to reach the families at their regular Support Group meetings and provide books and information about the project. The caregivers will be encouraged to chat about books with the young people in their care, to share and reflect on themselves as readers, and develop strategies to build empathy and resilience through books.

Project ambitions

“It is hoped that if young readers see others excited by books, and get the right books at the right time, it will provide that hook, to hook them to reading.”

The stakeholders interviewed agreed the focus for the project is to encourage children and young people to read for pleasure in order to support the lifelong benefits associated with reading.

Several interviewees noted the link between wellbeing and reading, and hoped that with many children, young people and their whānau having a background of trauma, reading and sharing books and stories would ‘be calming’ and ‘provide respite’, ‘an escape into another world’ and ‘open new worlds and possibilities’. The role of reading in helping to reduce stress for both children and the adults in their lives was highlighted.

“We know it can be calming. After the earthquakes there was no power. There were stories of families sitting under the kitchen table reading books to help settle and calm their children.”

Access to books was seen as an issue for children and young people in care. Stakeholders interviewed noted that books are expensive and beyond the budget of many families, and children and young people in care tend to be underserved by libraries. Despite there being a good public library system in Canterbury there are a number of barriers to using it. "There is a reluctance to get books out of the library. This is a group of children who move around a lot. It can be hard to keep track of books, which need to be returned." Interviewees also talked of fines being a barrier to library use. “Even if they felt comfortable in a library setting, there are other barriers to use such as a fear of having to pay fines for late, lost or damaged books. It can be a real deterrent to using the library.”

Providing books that children and young people can keep, removing concerns around loss or damage, were seen as directly addressing some of these barriers to access.

“We obviously have a high-needs cohort and wider whānau, so the more books we can get out and into their homes the better.”

An ambition, and challenge, is to provide books to children and young people in care that will engage them and inspire them ‘turning even the most reluctant reader into book lovers’.

The interviewees would like to see their whole community support this project as children and young people are more likely to read for pleasure if they are surrounded by adults who read for pleasure and “who talk about books, what they are reading, and take an active interest in what the children and young people are reading”._

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see all the adults in their lives support this ambition, with their school, homes, aunts, caregivers, whānau – all the adults in their lives – supporting a love of reading and providing access to books.”

It is hoped that providing access to a choice of appealing books, time to read, inviting quiet spaces where they can sit with a book, and a community of supportive adults will provide ‘positive flow-on effects of promoting a positive attitude towards books and reading’ and spark a lifelong habit with all the associated benefits reading for pleasure unleashes.

“This feels like one of those rare programmes where the link between the desired outcome (more books in high-needs homes/communities) and the method (give them free books) is a blessedly straight line.”

It was acknowledged by stakeholders interviewed that for these ambitions, outcomes and impacts to happen, stakeholders need to collaborate as each stakeholder in the group “understands part of quite a complex landscape and how to actually get the books to children in care”. Kingslea School, Gateway and Oranga Tamariki social workers, for example, understand ways of reaching children and young people in care and their whānau and caregivers. They also have an understanding of who else works with the caregivers and families that might be helpful to connect up with. National Library staff, in addition to providing books, expertise and professional development opportunities, have been able to provide dedicated staff time to support the coordination and management of the project, including selecting, stickering and distributing the books to the organisations who can then give them out to children, young people and their families.

Project activities

Partnership work

In its first 9 months, the COR has undertaken significant consultation with partners and the target community, identified its vision and plan of action. With the necessary groundwork in place, the project has begun to implement the delivery phase.

The distribution of books

Considerable success has been achieved with distributing books and putting in place the infrastructure needed, such as shelving and appealing display units, to introduce the books to the children and young people. By mid-May nearly 1,000 books had been distributed, with hundreds more books being prepared for distribution.

Kingslea School

Hundreds of books, along with bookcases, have been delivered to Kingslea School. Kingslea School is a multi-campus school delivering education to some of New Zealand's most vulnerable children, including those in residential care.

  • Over 80 books have been delivered to Arahina ki Ōtautahi, located in Richmond, Christchurch, which works with up to 20 children and young people aged 10–16 years in the care of Oranga Tamariki
  • Almost 90 books have been delivered to Te Oranga, a residential care and protection learning facility in Burwood, Christchurch which accommodates up to 10 children from 8–17 years, and
  • Over 70 books have been delivered to Te Puna Wai ō Tuhinapo, a mixed gender, Youth Justice residence that caters for young people aged from 14–17 years with varied and complex needs, remanded or sentenced by the Youth Court. Teachers are supported in classroom management by Child Youth and Family residential staff.

A further 50 books were given to young people at a prizegiving event at Arahina.

Gateway Christchurch Hospital

Over 150 books have been provided to the Child and Family Safety Service (CFSS) to give to young people accessing I2T and Gateway, which provide medical and psychosocial support for some of Canterbury's most vulnerable young people.

“The books include colourful picture books, fiction, graphic novels and non-fiction books; all chosen to engage and inspire young people to read for pleasure and wellbeing.”

The books have been placed in a browsing bin, so the children and young people can choose a book themselves.

Oranga Tamariki Family Care Homes

Programme organisers met with senior representatives from three Oranga Tamariki Family Care Homes in early April. Information was gathered about the needs and interests of the young people, so the books would have a wide choice of topics, genres and formats. They were asked about:

  • languages required
  • literacy levels
  • age levels
  • familiarity with libraries
  • forms of books, e.g., picture books, hard cover, audio books, graphic novels, magazines
  • genre of books, e.g., non-fiction, adventure, science fiction
  • types of books to avoid, e.g., dealing with violence and gangs, and
  • resources needed such as shelving.

As a result, a wide range of books, along with bookcases to accommodate them, have been delivered to two Family Care homes with an order for the third in progress.

Oranga Tamariki and Work and Income Office Rangiora

Over 400 books have been distributed to social workers at Oranga Tamariki and placed in the shared Work and Income office at Rangiora. A bookcase with a trough at the back means the books can be stored and replenished regularly, reducing the frequency of deliveries. Staff from the Work and Income office have added books from home to the collection. The receptionist and security guard regularly invite children and young people to choose a book while their caregivers are waiting or being interviewed, and the receptionist has read the books aloud to staff and children at the office.

Professional Development

An introduction to the project was held for social workers based at Oranga Tamariki in Rangiora at one of their regular meetings in early May. Social workers responsible for visiting and monitoring 68 young people in care attended. The social workers were enthusiastic about the project. One said she sits down with the children in her care and caregivers and subtly models how to read with children. The social workers thought families would be unlikely to read pamphlets and suggested the books contain stickers with key messages about the benefits of reading.

Plans are also being finalised to introduce the programme in late June to Te Puna Wai ō Tuhinapo Care Team involving over 100 staff in three teams at Kingslea School's learning centre in the Youth Justice Facility in Rolleston. Discussions are also underway with Christchurch East Centre on suitable dates for introducing the project to their social workers. An introductory session for caregivers/whānau associated with Rangiora Oranga Tamariki is also being planned.

These sessions will be evaluated and then rolled out, with improvements, to other Oranga Tamariki sites for social workers and caregivers.

Professional Development sessions through an 'Accord Day' were also undertaken at Kingslea School teachers/staff in mid-May aimed at showing how they can be part of spreading a reading for pleasure culture. A whānau session will be planned later in the year.

Early outcomes

The families and children receiving these are happy and amazed that they were free. The children’s eyes say it all when you say they can pick a book to take home to read with their whānau.

Although the project is in its early days, interviewees can already see benefits.

Those working with children and young people have described their “positivity towards the books, and their excitement about being able to choose and keep them”. When the books were delivered to one site, staff said the three young people were excited to see them and immediately selected books to take away and read. Other interviewees, too, reported an enthusiastic response to the books.

The momentum is growing as groups and organisations begin to mobilise around the project.

Organisations want to take part, and can suggest other groups, organisations and contacts to ensure the books get to children and young people in care. For example, on hearing about the project, the Work and Income office at Rangiora, asked if they too could have books for the waiting area.

“Everyone we have approached has been positive about the project and wanted to take part in it.”

People are adding to the books being made available. At the Work and Income office for example, staff have added beautiful, quality children's books from home to the collection.

“Staff asked if they could have stickers because we have people donating books." While there is a risk that this might mean scruffy, low quality books are included, a champion at the office is ensuring quality control.”

Success factors and challenges


The books need to be carefully curated

Selecting books for children in care comes with challenges as the collection needs to be carefully curated. Potentially triggering topics, such as violence or sexual violence, need to be avoided. In addition to addressing the language and cultural needs of children and young people locally, including the provision of high interest, appealing, engaging reading material in Te Reo Māori, home languages and dual languages, there needs to be sufficient high interest/low reading level books to capture the attention of readers with lower reading levels.

Books in which young people can see themselves and which affirm their identity are particularly important for children in care. The young people may not have access to their stories and whakapapa or knowledge of their past, family history, cultural and religious background, all which help to shape belonging and identity.

“They need access to (books that are) windows and mirrors – books in which they can see themselves, books which they can escape into, and books in which they can see different opportunities and ways of being.”

The quality of the books matters

The importance of providing good quality, new or nearly new books was considered important if the aim was to get children and young people to want to pick them up and read them. The feedback around the books has been positive with children and young people reportedly excited to receive them.

“The books are stunning, and we are so excited about the prospect of them helping these children and teens, who may be traumatised, to nurture a love of books.” CDHB newsletter, February 2021

Providing good quality books is seen as particularly important for this population group as it tells them “you matter, we value you and we want you to have the best, we want you to have beautiful things of value”.

“The quality of the books tells them they are being valued.”

Enormous care has been taken to ensure the books from National Library look new, which involves dusting them off, removing any library stickers and logos, and re-stickering each book. Processing the books to make them look new or nearly new and appealing is time-consuming, labour intensive ‘and wrecks fingernails!’._

The collection has been supplemented with new books which has increased the range, choice and relevance available.

“If the families went into a bookshop they would see the same range of books they are being offered.”

The books need to be well displayed

Care has been taken to ensure the books are well displayed so children and young people can see the range of books they can choose from, and so they will want to pick them up. It was noted that children and young people have often picked up several books which looked interesting to them before deciding on the book they wanted to take.

“If the books are not displayed well, they are not enticing.”

Children are given a choice of books

The importance of giving children a choice of bookswas identified after it was observed that books were being kept in a storeroom and staff were choosing books for the children instead of encouraging them to choose the books themselves. As a result, browsing bins on wheels and bookshelves which display a range of books on offer were purchased. Professional development sessions reinforce this point.

“Allowing children to pick their own books is empowering – it makes it more likely they'll choose a book they want to read, which will make them want to pick up another book. And that is how the cycle of reading for pleasure starts.”

Beyond the books

Linking reading to pleasure

The stakeholders interviewed believe reading has to be about pleasure. As one interviewee pointed out, "no hard tasks associated with it ever, no expectations, no exceptions". The focus needs to be on free choice. Children and young people need opportunities, a comfortable place and free time where they can choose to sit down with a book.

"They need a choice over where and when to read, and a place where they can snuggle up with a book."

Adults play an important role in supporting reading for pleasure

Children and young people don't just need access to ‘a choice of wonderful, appealing books’. The interviewees believe they need positive reading role models, including parents, caregivers, teachers and other adults in their lives “who can talk about how they read, what they are reading, how they choose books, what they are like” and who can “share their joy of reading with the children and young people and inspire them”.

Adults talking about reading for pleasure has to be authentic.

“These young people are streetwise. They are used to reading people. They will not be convinced if the approach is not genuine.”

Moreover, they need adults to share books with them. While younger children, in particular, are reliant on adults in their life taking the time to read to them older children, too, enjoy being read to, particularly those who may not be able to read the books themselves.

Stakeholders acknowledged that sharing the project and messaging with caregivers and parents has required careful thought and planning as the landscape is ‘complicated’. Morning teas are provided where foster parents and caregivers can meet. While they provide an opportunity for National Library to meet with caregivers, ‘these are generally not widely attended’. Consequently, the Oranga Tamariki social workers who are in regular contact with carers have offered to help distribute the books.


It takes time to build trust and a shared understanding

Interviewees believe the collaboration is working well. They pointed out, however, that collaborative work, particularly when working with vulnerable population groups, takes time. Initially there were delays in establishing the project while the implications and potential risks of working with children in or on the edge of care were considered.

There was also acknowledgement that it took time for those from different organisations to meet and develop a shared understanding and vision for change. “It is not something which can be rushed.” Several of the interviewees said it was difficult to get their heads around the

offer initially as it “felt too good to be true”. “We kept looking for strings (attached)”.

The willingness of National Library staff to bring books to events such as the prizegiving at Arahina very early on in the project enabled stakeholders to experience what was on offer and see the impact the books had on children and young people.

“The National Library staff turned up with books and they were beautiful.”

The right people need to be at the table

In addition to having a shared vision, there needs to be a joint approach in working towards it. This requires the right people at the table as each stakeholder “holds a different part of the puzzle and brings different skills and connections”. There was acknowledgement that no one could deliver this project on their own.

“While we have been able to provide the books, we were unsure how to get them into the hands of children in care. They are able to tell us how this could work and what we could try.”

The Stakeholder Group includes those who have connections with the community, and who are able to make things happen. Having the school leadership on board, for example, has been identified as a critical success factor. The leadership team of the school is “right behind the project and understands it”.

“This has opened doors with teachers and others who work with the children and young people.”

Similarly, having Oranga Tamariki management involved has been instrumental in helping to facilitate meetings with social workers, who can take the books to caregivers.

Backbone support

In addition to providing books, National Library has provided backbone support to the project, including project planning, tracking, communications and collateral material. Having dedicated staff has helped to keep the project moving and focused. It was noted that while there are ongoing meetings and communications from National Library which have helped the project progress, the decision-making is being held ‘gently’ which has helped those on the Stakeholder Group maintain ownership of it.

Next steps

The interviewees note that the project is still in its early stages and the books have only started to be distributed. They see the next steps as sharing the books more broadly with caregivers and whānau outside of the school settings. This is in progress.

Several noted, that while still early days, they would like to ensure the project is sustainable and becomes part of ‘business as usual’. Providing books to children and young people is seen as a great start, but it is hoped that they will have ongoing access to books: at home, in school libraries and through the removal of barriers that currently limit access to public libraries. Several interviewees suggested that nearly new books, weeded from library collections, could be a potential source of books in the future, along with books swapped or shared with others. There was a hope, however, that when considering sustainability, thought would be given on how to keep including access to new books from New Zealand authors, as these support young people to navigate a sense of their identity.

The interviewees would also like to see the research extended to see whether the project makes a difference in the long-term.

“I would like to find out in two to three years whether the project has made a difference – if the books hooked them in and sparked a love of reading.”

Lastly, because there is so much evidence that reading for pleasure can make a difference to the wellbeing, educational and lifelong outcomes of children and young people, with only 6,500 children in care across New Zealand, the interviewees would like to see the project extend beyond Canterbury.

“There are high quality, relevant books in Te Reo Māori and bilingual, which enable us to see ourselves in the stories.”


The Community of Readers vision is to weave a whāriki (a ground-covering mat) of support to inspire a love of reading among tamariki and rangatahi in care, or on the edge of care, by working with partners, stakeholders and support agencies in the Canterbury area to provide books, reading environments and reading for pleasure experiences.

While there is acknowledgement that one, or several books, may seem to be a small intervention, the stakeholders interviewed hope that providing appealing books matched to the interests, language and capabilities of young people will get them to pick up another book, sparking a virtuous cycle of reading for fun. Moreover, it is hoped that providing role models, environments and support from communities will help further strengthen young people’s engagement in reading, improve wellbeing and unleash the array of lifelong benefits associated with reading for pleasure.

There are a number of questions that this project seeks to answer. Will access to books improve for children and young people in care, or on the edge of care, in the Canterbury Region? Will the books appeal to the children and young people and will they read them? Will this, in turn, inspire them to pick up another book and develop a reading habit? Will the teachers, adults, social workers and other children and young people in their lives form a community of readers and web of support? If the initiative does succeed, how might the project be sustained?

The early indications are that the conditions are starting to be put in place to provide children, young people and their caregivers and families with access to books. Reports from staff say children in or on the edge of care are picking the books up, appear to be excited by them and are inspired to read them.

An evaluation once the project has had time to embed will help the project leaders better understand the impact of the project, if any, along with lessons that might help other communities establish communities of readers.

Alex Woodley,
Point & Associates
June 2021

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