Flying duck and words "Read, share, grow, South Dunedin".

South Dunedin Communities of Readers Project report

Findings and insights from the Communities of Readers Project undertaken in South Dunedin. This project is a National Library initiative that aims to engage children aged 3 to 7 and their families with reading for pleasure and wellbeing.

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 report covers the period from mid-2019 to April 2021, and focuses on:

  • the ambitions of the South Dunedin Community of Readers project
  • what the project achieved
  • early outcomes, and
  • what we have learned, in particular success factors and challenges that might help others establish a community of readers.

The report is based on observational field notes, project documentation including the Dunedin Co-design Process Report undertaken by the Methodist Mission Southern in 2019, and semi-structured interviews with families and whānau (55), children (27), businesses (7), NGOs, community groups and educators (11), and project leaders and the working group (9) undertaken by Point and Associates (See Appendix One).

There is a significant body of research confirming the benefits of reading for pleasure as one of the most powerful ways of improving reading, education outcomes and wellbeing. Reading for pleasure improves people's ability to empathise, knowledge of other cultures, parent-child communication and social capital for children (Wilkinson, 2015). It also provides a foundation for digital literacy and critical thinking, crucial for participation in today’s complex world of information.

Creating a reading community helps to ensure children have the support, encouragement, reading resources and inspiration to read for pleasure. However, 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.

Bookmark with Māori design and a shark. Space on bookmark to write a name. Words on book mark are "this book belongs to:, Te mana o te kupu, www.readsharegrownz, Read, share grow South Dunedin logo.
Read share grow bookmark.

South Dunedin is a diverse community of over 10,000 people, comprising 84% European, 12% Māori, 6% Pasifika, 6% Asian and 2% from other ethnic backgrounds (NZ Census, 2018.)1 While it is a low-income community with pockets of deprivation, family and whānau interviewed for the project described it as ‘resilient with a huge heart’. Dunedin is a City of Literature. People living in South Dunedin and those working with the South Dunedin community were keen to support communities of readers in South Dunedin, increasing access of whānau to books, growing reading for pleasure along with the the benefits a community of readers confers.

The project partners

The South Dunedin project partners include the Dunedin City Council, Methodist Mission Southern, Ministry of Education Otago/Southland Regional Directorate, and the National Library of New Zealand. More recently, Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou and Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki joined as partners.

A working group, with representatives from the partner organisations, was established to drive the project and workstreams.

South Dunedin baseline

A research and co-design process was undertaken by Methodist Mission Southern (2019)2 to better understand how to engage South Dunedin children aged 3–7 years in reading for pleasure, particularly during their transition from early childhood education to primary school. The process highlighted current reading practices, language development needs and the barriers to reading for pleasure in the culturally-diverse South Dunedin community.

The research and co-design process involved interviews with 35 participants from a wide range of cultural groups along with workers from reading-related professions (teachers, librarians, community workers etc.). Languages spoken in participants’ homes included: English, Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Cook Islands Māori, Fijian, Tuvaluan, Tokelaun, Portuguese, basic Cambodian, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Gaeilge and French.

The Methodist Southern Mission (2019) found:

  • Adults unanimously believed proficiency in reading was important for the development of their children.
  • Parents were more likely to source books from a library when their children were younger, aged between 3–8 years. Parents noted that children under the age of 2 years tended to damage books.
  • After 8 years of age, parents considered their children to be more independent readers and less interested in the library as an experience.
  • While many parents had heard of the book bus, very few said they had used it.
  • Parents were very busy with work and family life, especially those with younger families, and expressed feelings of having little time for leisure or recreation.
  • Many parents felt guilty about their lack of energy or interest in reading to/with their children.
  • Parents were often tired at the end of the day, which contributed to them seldom reading for themselves, meaning fewer children were seeing parents/adults reading.
  • The majority of parents did read to/with their children, but did so out of duty, knowing it is important.
  • Only a few spoke of reading with their child bringing them pleasure.
Yellow poster with duck flying, read share grow logo and words He iwiw pānui, join the South Dunedin tribe of readers #ReadShareGrow.
Read Share Grow poster.

The Methodist Southern Mission (2019) also found that the Early Childhood Education Centres (ECEs) staff were acutely aware of the challenge that literacy is to many parents. Interviewees from ECEs reported providing a range of reading materials at their centres and said that children were read to/with at least 2–3 times daily. They also said children were able to take home books from many ECEs by arrangement.

Primary teachers interviewed believed increasing numbers of children entering school were responding better to a play-based curriculum. They also said significant numbers of children aged 5 years and older are not ready to read, especially boys. Primary teachers reported prioritising reading for all children and said they were working hard to develop children’s skills and love of reading.

Children were being encouraged or required to take home library books, school readers, poems and other resources on a weekly basis. A number of teachers spoke of some pupils having few, if any, reading resources in their homes. In contrast, parents interviewed spoke of having a range of books at home. Teachers said they were supporting children with wide-ranging language abilities, including many who were really struggling. In one primary school, senior citizens come in and read with the children.

Interviewees said there was a notable drop in the number of children who chose to read beyond the age of 8–10 years. Screens appeared to become more prevalent in a child’s life from this point onward. Parents noted the tension that exists between ‘their hope that a child reads a book v.s the lure of a gadget’.

Only one in three of the people interviewed spoke or knew of the South Dunedin pop-up library. The use of this library was very limited. Those who did use it appreciated the range of children’s books and resources, and storytime for kids.

While Dunedin is known as a literary city, the research found that few whānau in South Dunedin currently read for pleasure (Methodist Mission Southern, 2019).

The project

The objectives of the project were:

  • to work together with the communities of South Dunedin to increase the number of young readers aged 3–7 years inspired to read for pleasure and wellbeing. This is a period that incorporates the transition from early learning environments to primary school
  • to encourage reading together to strengthen communities

Project activities

Based on the research and co-design process, the project had two key elements:

  1. to provide thousands of diverse and appealing books throughout the South Dunedin community, in places where families go as part of their normal daily activities as well as in places where they might expect to find books to read or borrow
  2. a campaign of simple messages about reading.

The distribution of books

Between November 2020 and May 2021, a total of 10,000 new or near-new books were distributed to children aged 3–7 and their families and whānau in the South Dunedin area. A further 5,000 books will be distributed in June 2021.

The books were selected, sourced, transported and prepared for distribution in Dunedin by the National Library, using storage space and support provided by the Dunedin Public Library for 12 months.

Each tranche of books was curated by National Library specialists for the families likely to be receiving them. The books were in English, Te Reo Māori (1,134) Pasifika (129) and other home and heart languages (40). They were selected for different ages and cultural groups. Each book contained stickers with the messages of ‘Read Share Grow’ and ‘This book is for you to keep and share’.

Distribution points included churches, community centres, supermarkets, cafes, shops, local businesses, medical and dental waiting rooms, and government agency offices. Additional books were provided at established reading places where people might expect to find books, such as in the South Dunedin pop-up public library, at early childhood centres, in schools and school libraries, and in Lilliput libraries.

Campaign messages were contained in the books. Children, families and whānau were encouraged to keep, swap or share books, or leave them at designated places when they were no longer wanted.

There was a ‘no-fault or fine’ approach to the loss or damage of any books through this project.

The Campaign Read Share Grow | Te Mana o te Kupu

The project commissioned Firebrand, a local creative company with links to South Dunedin, to design the Read Share Grow | Te Mana o te Kupu campaign. It featured strong cultural and local graphics, and kupu gifted by Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou and Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki.

Short, clear messages about the joys and benefits of reading included:

  • Te mana o te kupu: The power of the word
  • He iwi Pānui: A tribe of readers
  • Read Books, Share Stories, Grow Together
  • Read, share, laugh
  • Read, share, love
  • Read, share, learn.

These messages formed the basis of a communication campaign designed to reach the South Dunedin community.

Over 600 posters were distributed for display in South Dunedin businesses, schools, ECEs and community organisations. Ten thousand Read Share Grow bookmarks and stickers were printed, half of which have already been given to children. The campaign gained further visibility through back-of-local-buses advertising.

The project engaged local media including the Otago Daily Times, The Star, Channel 39 and Otago Access Radio, and provided copy for community and schools newsletters.

Square yellow sticker with a teal circle in the middle of the square and the words read share grow South Dunedin, te mana o te kupu. Also features a shark and seal reading and duck flying.
Read share grow sticker.

Website and social media campaign

The project included a website, and a social media campaign. The website received around 600 visits in the four months to April 2021.

Engaging the community

The project engaged with over 120 community and Kaupapa Māori groups, services, organisations, advocates, churches, ECEs and schools, encouraging them to support reading for pleasure for children, families and whānau in South Dunedin. Many of these championed the campaign and provided distribution channels for the books.

Books, posters, bookmarks and stickers were offered at local events and book-related initiatives including at the South Dunedin Street Festival, at theTe Rūnanga o Ōtākou and Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki Christmas Party, to support the UNESCO City of Literature programmes, for South Dunedin Lilliput Libraries and at the Teddy Bear Hospital and Supergran events.

As part of launching the project, South Dunedin families were invited to attend a community whānau event at Bathgate Park School. He Iwi Kōrero was a celebration of the stories of mana whenua and all the communities residing in the area, organised by Mātāwai and funded by the Ministry of Education and Te Puna Foundation. The focus on building and strengthening connections with local, cultural and creative components of the campaign attracted over 250 people to the hui.

Invitation to whānau night with details of where and when.
Read share grow invitation.

Community-based caterers provided a full meal showcasing Māori, Pasifika and Middle Eastern food traditions. Activities were run for tamariki and rangatahi to give parents an opportunity to explore the principles of the programme presented by keynote speakers and supported by culturally competent bilingual facilitators at designated table discussions.

A team of 40 kaimahi and partner group staff supported He Iwi Kōrero to set up the venue, cater, provide book displays, organise activities and pack out the hall. The city library book bus had over 200 visits during the evening.

Engaging ECEs and schools

ECEs and schools played a key role in the distribution the books. A hui for 40 teachers and ECE educators was held in June 2020 in which the research and proposed project were shared. The educators were invited to contribute their ideas to the planning.

A professional development day for educators from South Dunedin schools and ECEs, Hui Tautoko, funded by the Ministry of Education and facilitated by Mātāwai, was held on 30 March 2021. Further professional development for school staff is planned for the year to be delivered by the National Library.

In addition, the Dunedin Public Library's regular outreach to ECEs distributed books and promoted the project.


Books everywhere

An ambition for the project was to increase access to books for children aged 3–7 years old, and their families and whānau. With 10,000 books distributed through ECEs, schools, community groups, businesses and libraries, it would appear the community’s access to books is increasing. While not all ECEs and schools had distributed the books, over half of the children and families interviewed for the project had already received a book, with around one-quarter having received several books from different sources, including at local events, from NGOs and local businesses. Several families mentioned they had also seen the books in the Lilliput libraries.

“The books seem to be everywhere right now, even at our local vege shop.” Parent/caregiver

When interviewed, those who had not received a book were in the process of being given a book from the library, a business or at a street festival.

While most families and whānau said they had ‘a few’; or ‘some’ children’s books at home, there were families who said this was the first children’s book they had owned. Stakeholders who undertook home visits also said they gave books to families who did not have any children’s books at home.

Head of a person with a conversation bubble saying "Tumeme — it is my baby's first book." Parent of a 3-year-old

Home and heart languages

Access to books in different languages has also improved. Very few families and whānau interviewed had children’s books in their home and heart languages. Those who did said they were more likely to be books designed to teach reading, rather than storybooks they could share.

“It is hard to get books in Arabic. There are very few shops in Dunedin which sell them and there are not many in the library. We were really surprised there were not only books in Arabic, but there was a choice of books.” (Family/whānau)

"The books (in chinese) are usually readers rather than stories. It is good to see story books" Family/whānau

The books are read and shared

Those who were in the process of choosing a book said they were looking forward to sharing it with their child. Without exception, those who been given books said they had read the books together with their children. Most of the parents and caregivers said they read the books to their children as part of a bedtime routine, with some reading them when their child brought them the book during the day. Some had read the books numerous times, with one parent saying she had already read the book to her child at least 30 times. (Her child was given the opportunity to select more books.)

Although stakeholders noted whānau have busy and complex lives and competing priorities, parents appear to be finding micro-moments in the day and at bedtime to read the books to their children. They say that both they and their children are enjoying the books.

While it is too early to say whether the collateral is a visual reminder of the campaign to read for pleasure, particularly as many families and whānau had not seen the material, others noted the posters were all over South Dunedin "in every shop window and cafe".

Keeping and swapping books

The books are being kept and swapped. While most families are choosing to keep the books, some of the children have swapped them with other children at school or with other families and whānau.

Several families said they had already swapped books for others at Lilliput libraries, cafés, takeaway bars and other local businesses.

Book insert, has read share grow logo on it and words this book is for you to keep and share #readsharegrow, facebook, instagram internet
Read share grow book insert.

Library access

The project has already had an impact on the way the South Dunedin library operates. The baseline research found that the book bus service, which provides about three-and-a-half hours of public access in the South Dunedin area, was unknown. As a result, there have been changes to the book bus timetable, ‘so that we can be more visible in the South Dunedin area’. (Partner/Working group)

Moreover, the library has addressed the way they treat young people's overdue books. The baseline research demonstrated young people's reluctance to borrow books in case they were hit with large fines for not returning them on time.

“Basically, they didn’t use the library because they were afraid they would end up paying some money at some point or another. So that gave us renewed enthusiasm to press for a fine-free approach to people under 18 years of age. So, we've now successfully implemented a 'fine-free for youth' regime within our library service and we will be communicating that more widely as time goes on.” (Partner/working group)

Women's head with a conversation bubble and the words "We put the book into the Lilliput library so it can be shared around. It was a chapter book, so it wasn't really a book to re-read." Family/whānau

Enhanced community connections

There is evidence the community is coming together to support the project. Over 120 community groups, organisations and businesses, along with ECEs and schools, are connected to the project, distributing books and broadening families' access to books.

As more people, groups and businesses hear about the project, the number wanting to be part of it is increasing. Moreover, the generosity of the project appears to be unleashing further generosity. People are asking how they might volunteer or help. Many of the families and whānau spoke of adding a few extra books to the Liliput library while they were there swapping books. A publisher has offered to give more books to the project. A number of stakeholders have offered to seek funding to help support it.

“Whenever I talk to people about this they want to help and be involved. Everyone in the project ends up linking each other to the project, it really has sparked people’s enthusiasm to help out and for it to go well.” (Partner/working group)

The ‘splash and ripple’ effects of the project are helping to grow community support. One local businesses owner, for example, who was distributing books, talked with other local businesses, who then asked if they too could help. There are now over 50 businesses distributing books.

Similarly, NGOS and service providers are introducing working group members to other service providers who can help distribute the books to families and whānau ‘wh don’t really have many books at home’.

Organisations too are supporting the project through their work. As part of a Cities of Literature collaboration to celebrate World Poetry Day, the Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature provided free poetry workshops for children aged 7–8 years in schools in South Dunedin. South Dunedin was selected for this project to support Read Share Grow. Similarly, the project has been invited to provide a pop-up display at the Dunedin Study’s Slice of Life exhibition, opening in South Dunedin in June.

It is these interactions that are growing the project in the community and building community momentum and support.


The project has had an unanticipated impact on local businesses. One business owner noticed having books in the café had broadened her customer base with parents and grandparents now coming to the café with their children and grandchildren, which had been ‘really helpful in a very challenging year’._

Another said she had seen a lot more repeat business, with customers coming back to her shop for goods and asking if there were any more books. A takeaway bar staff member said she had noticed a change of behaviour in her shop since having a stack of books. Parents who would be outside while their children ‘jumped around all over the shop’ were now sitting down and reading to their children while they waited. Moreover, she said while some families had taken the books home, they were also bringing them back and swapping them for a new book the following week.

Woman and child reading a book together.

Partnership and collaboration

The project has brought about a new, more collaborative way of working. The partners and the working group have come together on the project and are ‘passionate champions of the project’.

This collaborative and relational way of working has extended beyond this project into other areas of work being undertaken. They now have contacts in other organisations who can provide them with information, help them navigate the organisation to find the right people to speak to and introduce them to different people, groups and networks.

“It has introduced another whole element to the way we can work, which is the cross-agency, much more collaborative, and outward looking. And really important ... because they can be quite siloed.” (Partner/working group)

What have we learned? Success factors and challenges

Community Engagement and Collaboration

Mana whenua

The involvement of mana whenua was seen as critically important to the success of the project. Iwi are partnering in the project and see themselves reflected in it.

“The names that we're using, te reo we're using, the cultural narrative part of the pictures, know that it's come from here. The visual, cultural and historical context is present and opens the door for people to learn more about the history of our area if they want. Our people can see themselves reflected in the project.” (Partner/working group)

The community at large

“Reading cannot be left to parents and teachers alone. If we are to build community, and build a community of readers, we all need to be in this together.” (Partner/working group)

While one person can make a difference to inspiring children and their whānau to read for pleasure, the partners and working group believe ‘the biggest impact comes when they have support for reading from a network of people, so a community’._ Community engagement was key to creating ‘that iwi pānui, that tribe of readers that gets excited and shares stories, whether it be through books or kōrero or waiata’._

The campaign went beyond books and collateral and focuses on person-to-person or ‘kanohi ki te kanohi’ (face-to-face) relationships.

“It’s not just about books, it’s about people, actual people pushing the kaupapa. It’s all good and well to read a poster and grab a book, but it’s the people that are going to make it connect.” (Partner/working group)

A critical ambition for the South Dunedin community was to feel as if the project is being undertaken with them and not done to them. Interviewees were clear, communities build communities of readers and that means engaging with whānau, groups, organisations and businesses. ‘We are going to need everyone on board.’ (Partner/working group)_

“Hopefully, as we've been talking (to the community) through the whole project, the community feel as if the project is with them, for them, not to them.” (Partner/working group)

The National Library facilitators and working group members regularly attended, spoke at, and took part in a wide range of network meetings and events and met with dozens of community groups, NGOs and local businesses. Several interviewees noted the National Library facilitators in particular were ‘everywhere’ and their passion, enthusiasm and love of reading was so contagious ‘everyone wanted to take part’.(Partner/working group)

It was noted community relationships do take time to build.

“It takes a while to get embedded in a community. Even though people are supportive and welcoming, it takes a bit until you are top of mind for them. But once they have space in their lives for you, then they see lots of opportunities for them to help you out, share news of your project.” (Partner/working group)

It also takes time, dedicated resources and promotion to grow an audience for a website. As the focus of the campaign was on building engagement with the community through face-to-face interactions, the emphasis was on attending meetings and community events. Although the Read Share Grow community on social media is growing due to the ongoing work of a member of the working group, the website has served primarily as an information hub that people were encouraged to visit if they wanted to know more about the project and/or contribute.

ECES and schools

ECEs, including Kohanga Reo, and schools, including Kura Kaupapa Māori, have a key role in the project as they have a connection with both children and their families and whānau. Moreover, they play an important role in creating readers and in helping families and whānau support and encourage reading at home.

While ECEs and schools were invited to be involved early in the planning of the project, many were unsure why they were being delivered boxes of books and what they were meant to do with them. They were also unable to answer questions from families and whānau about why they were being given free books. Some schools and ECEs have not yet distributed the books. Others gave books out to children rather than letting them choose the books themselves.

The boxes of books contained a sheet outlining the project, but it appears this was not always read by those distributing the books.

Given their central role in the project, working group members recommend engaging ECEs and schools earlier and more deeply so they are able to understand and champion the project both within their ECEs and schools, and with children and their families and whānau.

Collaboration needs the right people at the table

It was acknowledged that the right people were at the partnership table, particularly once the project partnered with iwi. The working group members had deep connections and relationships with the South Dunedin communities and brought those connections and relationships with them.

“I think that’s been my focus – building quality of relationships, that are respectful and inclusive, and reflect a strong understanding and appreciation of cultural processes, cultural practice.” (Partner/working group)

Working together has deepened both the working groups’ and partners’ understanding of the South Dunedin community. ‘The thoughtfulness of trying to find something that is a good fit for this community’ has been a positive challenge. ‘It gives you pause to think about the very different situations that people are in.’ In common with other respondents, this informant believes the project has expanded her thinking, changed her perspective and informed other work she has undertaken.(Partner/working group)

The relationships between working group members have taken time to develop. It was acknowledged that the project has been a considerable time commitment and workload for working group members and the organisations which support them. While having the right people at the table is important, for projects to be sustainable consideration may need to be given to funding the time of project participants who may be unpaid or otherwise limited in their participation.

Working in collaboration has not always been easy, with organisations having different priorities, processes and requirements. Partnerships and collaborations between government, local government and communities need resources and tools, in addition to good will, to support them. Government agencies are limited by requirements and procedures which can restrict flexibility, for example, in the use of collaborative online tools. While ‘work-arounds’ to these challenges were found, these took longer to develop. Collaboration takes more time and it is hard to be agile. Nonetheless the interviewees felt there was a growing appreciation, trust and understanding of the perspectives brought to the table, and the relationships were strengthening other work they were involved in.

To further enhance the collaboration it was suggested having ‘young parents as an advisory group working alongside the working group in future’. It was felt that it might have expedited the campaign design process in terms of establishing the design brief, ‘what they felt worked and what they felt didn’t’. It was also suggested involving representatives of WINZ and social services could also enhance the partnership ‘because they are key to this cohort of children’. (Partner/working group)

Agility and adaptability were identified as important qualities for those on the working group as it was seen as helping progress the work more quickly. It was noted that there is no roadmap for this work so the partners and working group members have had to be reflective, agile and responsive to what they are learning. The library, for example, has adapted their practice and rules as barriers to usage emerged. Similarly, distributing the books in tranches has allowed those sourcing the books to take into account the needs of the community and adapt. For example, initially those sourcing the books thought the picture books would be selected first. In South Dunedin, the junior fiction books and comic format were more likely to be selected by children and their families and whānau.

Backbone support

National Library provided backbone support to the project. While staff in other organisations were undertaking this project on top of existing work, National Library committed dedicated staff time and resources to plan, manage and support the project. National Library staff facilitated the meetings and provided the logistical and administrative support required for the project to function smoothly. Several in the working group acknowledged the importance of this role in helping to drive the workstreams and the great care taken by National Library to ensure collective ownership of the project.

The books

A choice of books in home and heart languages

Understanding the diversity of the community is critical to selecting books. Much of the budget was spent on books that reflected the cultures and languages of South Dunedin families and whānau. Interviewees spoke of reading affirming culture, belonging and identity. They also saw reading as bringing awareness of diversity, including cultural diversities, particularly when books and stories are grounded in history, whakapapa, shared experiences and exemplify cultural values.

There is a limited range of published books available for purchase in home and heart languages. Books in Māori, by Māori and for Māori, especially linked to the stories of local iwi and Ōtepoti were in short supply.

Several parents commented they do not see themselves and whānau represented in books. Whānau, in particular, would love to see more indigenous stories from an indigenous perspective.

“It is great to see stories such as Harry Potter translated into Māori, but it would be even better to have books of our stories and our people, and there seem to be very few of these published.” (Family/whānau)

Despite being difficult to source and the range available to choose being not so wide, stories which reflect cultures and identities were sought after by families and were amongst the first books to be chosen.

The books are beautiful quality. They are not old shabby books at the end of their life. Family/whānau

The books are appealing

The books were new or near new and looked appealing. Both children and parents were attracted to the displays, often looking at a number of books before choosing one. Interviewees did not think there would have been the same engagement if the books had been worn or scruffy.

“They looked beautiful — something you want to value and treasure.” (Stakeholder)

One parent noted that no one takes the scruffy old books out of the Lilliput libraries. ‘Sometimes the Lilliput libraries become a dumping ground of books. It is nice to see good quality books.’

"I was so surprised to see so many books in Arabic. We don't have any children's books in Arabic at home." (Family/whānau)

Children chose the books themselves

Giving children a wide choice of books and allowing them to select their own books appeared to increase their engagement with the book they selected.

“I think it’s more about expanding and giving them choice over what they want to read. It’s about providing them with good options.” (Partner/working group)

Parents, librarians and teachers were encouraged to let the children choose the books themselves. Where this happened, the children said they ‘loved the book’ and were excited to be given it. They were able to articulate why they had chosen the book and hugged the book close to their chests after selecting it.

It was noted that some parents, librarians and teachers selected books they thought the child might like for them. At least some of the children who did not select the books themselves were not so willing to engage with the book, and some were disappointed by the book they had been given.

“I used to love dinosaurs. I got the book on dinosaurs. My friend got the book on sharks. She doesn’t even like sharks.” (Child)

When asked if she had swapped it with her friend, she felt she could not as ‘it is rude to swap gifts’. She had read the book and ‘quite enjoyed it’ as opposed to others who had chosen their own books and spoke with greater enthusiasm about their choice of book.

The project design and approach

Design and details matter

The design of the collateral is important. It is noted that the campaign material went through many iterations, following feedback from the working group and South Dunedin families, including children, to ensure it had a ‘South Dunedin look and feel’.

It is the details of the collateral which ground it in the community and make people feel part of it. Several Māori and Pasifika parents, for example, mentioned that the design of the bookmarks had a lengthwise space which was long enough to accommodate the name of their child.

On the whole, the South Dunedin families and whānau agreed they could see themselves reflected in the collateral accompanying the books.

“The project looks designed.It is beautiful. It has taken everything good — it is like showing us the best version of us, of South D.” (Family/whānau)

The Māori design paid respect to the area, representing the land, water and communities that live in Ōtepoti. The Pasifika graphics represent learning, the weaving of knowledge, and the land, sea and sky. Local animals, such as the mako (shark), pūtakitaki (paradise duck) and kekeno (fur seal), along with the tī kōuka (cabbage tree) are used. The colours represent the koru fronds, and the ocean, sands, marae and earth of Ōtepoti.

“It represents all that is good about South Dunedin.” (Stakeholder)

The children said they loved the animals, in particular ‘the shark’ although one thought ‘the duck (pūtakitaki)looked sad’. The children did not find the muted colours particularly appealing.

Although the collateral had features in common, several people had seen the different messages and different coloured posters with different animals and did not realise it was the same project.

Moreover, the collateral did not explain what the project was about, leaving family and whānau confused as to why they were receiving a book. An explanation of the project may be a useful addition to the collateral.


This graphic represents the areas of Ōtepoti where the project is located. The patterns tell the story of the lands, animals, nature, whānau and those who came before us. The design acknowledges the area, the land, water, and community that will interact there. Influenced by Pasifika and Māori, the design pays tribute to the founders of this land, but is representative of all cultures in South Dunedin, without being too specific to one culture. The graphics support the logo and help tell a chapter of a story.

Te tikanga/kōrero o te tohu

Ko te tikanga o te tohu nei, e tohu ana i ngā roherohenga o Ōtepoti e tū nei tēnei kaupapa. E whakaatu ana ngā tauira i ngā kōrero o te whenua, ngā kīrehe, te taiao, ngā whānau, ā, me ngā tīpuna hoki. E aumihi ana te hoahoa nei i te wairua kotahi o te rohe, te whenua, te wai me te hapori. He mea whakaawe e ngā iwi o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa me te Māori, e whakamānawa ana ia ki ngā tāngata tuatahi o tēnei motu, engari e whai wāhi ana hoki ngā ahurea katoa o Ōtepoti ki te Tonga, kīhai i hāngai pū ki te ahurea kotahi. Ka tautoko ngā whakanikotanga i te tohu, ā, ka āwhina ki te tuku i tētahi wāhanga noa o ngā kōrero.

Source: Read Share Grow website

The project is positive and strengths based

Linking the project to reading for fun, rather than literacy failures, poverty or social issues, has likely contributed to its success.

“The (projects) that are the most heartening are the ones that are done with heart rather than a medicinal ‘good for you’ approach… I don’t want books to be ‘sold’ as good for you. I want books to be ‘sold’ as being something lovely.”

The nature of the project, centred on the wellbeing of children, is something families, childcare centres, schools, businesses, groups and community organisations want to coalesce and mobilise around.

Stakeholders and families noted that the ‘negatives’ of South Dunedin are often highlighted, and it gets a lot of services designed to fix ‘problems’. It was pointed out that it is so much easier and more fun to grow joy than work on issues.

“The project is delightful. The message is simple. Read, share grow. Who wouldn’t want to be part of it?” (Stakeholder)

Similarly, the project takes a strengths-based approach and builds on the good things whānau are already doing. The interviewees mentioned the importance of keeping heart at the centre of the project and working together with the community in a ‘gentle aroha-filled’ way.

“I think first of all you need to celebrate what they already do. If it is five minutes, it’s five minutes of awesome connection communication reading time. And then, just supporting them… like, well two minutes before bed read another book or just have a kōrero.” (Partner/working group)

It was noted that while there may be barriers to reading for pleasure, there are also positive factors fostering literacy from which reading for pleasure can be further build.

“... there’s real high literacy in a lot of our… churches. Because children are also expected to recite stories, learn hundreds of songs and learn the stories behind them… All of that rich literacy goes on. I went to a church in Balclutha; they have this format where they use a data projector and all the verses get projected, and they all read it. There’s some real deep reading. There is reading skill, and then there is reading for pleasure which is a choice.” (Partner/working group)

The shared vision gave the project impetus

Several members of the partners and working group noted it was their shared passion for the vision of the project that got them through the challenging times. Everyone on the project cared deeply as they believed it would make a difference to the wellbeing of families and whānau in the South Dunedin community.

There was concern that New Zealand's focus on reading for learning needs to extend towards reading for pleasure. ‘We talk a lot about teaching how to read, the skills of reading that are really important, but equally as important is developing that will to read.’ One interviewee described how libraries encountered a lot of children with ‘very low reading levels who don’t understand why books are lovely things’

Some noted that books are a way of escaping hard times and building resilience. One interviewee described how her family had used reading to escape to a better world.

‘I’ve heard my sister describe it as being the best escape in the world. You know, it didn't matter what was happening, you could just escape into this world of reading and go on an adventure.’ Another said, ‘fabulous things happen to young people when they discover that other world that you can discover within the pages of a book… if more people whose lives are not that easy, if they could do that in times of strife then it would increase their wellbeing and have lots of knock-on effects like increasing their academic performance.’

They also see reading for pleasure as enhancing empathy, kindness and compassion, as books provide insight into the stories, lives and perspectives of others.

The working group wanted to see reading for pleasure, ‘as an ongoing habit that we’re forming and an attitude to reading for pleasure that’s moved possibly from a chore to a choice that people make’ so thatreading for pleasure becomes ‘part of the norm for the community’.

While admitting it is a lofty goal, the ultimate success would be that the effects of the project reach ‘all the generations coming in after the cohort that we’re working with now’.

“If we can do something that helps that (an appetite for reading for plesure) we know that the outcomes will be great and that we can make real differences in people’s lives...It is an investment in our community." (Partner/working group)


A key concern relates to the sustainability of the project. The partners and working group were warned against ‘spray and walk away’ approaches. ‘There are so many things that get pushed out and are done and it's great and then it’s gone. And there's no continuity and there's no support for our whānau... It’s almost like if it gets pushed out then we have to start all over again, when it’s easier to continue riding the wave and keeping the whānau on board that we’ve got.’

The partners are committed to continuing the project and thought is being given to how the funding and support for the kaupapa will be sustained.

“I think schools and ECEs are certainly an anchor because they… exist within the community and they have a lot of tentacles across the community. And, also, the other groups, for example, the churches, the Plunkets, all of those social services and agencies and groups who work within and across the community, it’s really all of those people being passionate about it and spreading the word... keeping it going.”

The age range of the children is to be extended in the next phase of the project following feedback that older children were "wistful" watching their younger siblings being given books, and there is evidence reading for pleasure declines at the age of eight.

Woman reading a story book to a child.


The ambition for the project was to grow an energy and culture of reading for pleasure in the South Dunedin community. Project partners and the working group hoped that South Dunedin would become a community that supports reading for pleasure, where families and whānau share stories and books with each other, where mana whenua and people from diverse cultures would see themselves reflected in the books and the campaign, and they would have their cultures and identities affirmed. It was hoped that, with the right books, ‘tiredness and guilt will be replaced with reading for enjoyment, cuddles and closeness’. (Working group)_

There are significant inequities that exist in New Zealand which start very young and escalate through school. Reading for pleasure is one of the most important indicators for the future success of a child, improving literacy, learning, health and wellbeing, and social outcomes. There is also inequitable access to books. Books are expensive and access to quality, culturally relevant books is an even greater issue for low-income communities. There is also limited use of the library.

The hope was that increasing access to age-appropriate and culturally relevant books in home languages, along with great messaging,would grow a joy of shared reading and reading for pleasure.

While the plan was to put 15,000 children's books throughout the South Dunedin community, it was unclear whether the community would support it, whether the distribution of books would reach young children and their families and whānau, whether they would be read and shared, and if any changes in shared reading would be sustained.

“Even if the messaging is read for pleasure, it doesn't mean it will grow reading for pleasure.” (Working group)

Six months into the project, with only two-thirds of the 15,000 books distributed, there is evidence the project is starting to have an impact.

It is widely supported by the community. Over 120 ECEs, schools, community groups, NGOs and local businesses have coalesced around the project and are distributing books throughout the South Dunedin community.

It appears the wide distribution of books through such a diverse range of channels is providing more equitable access. While there are children and families still to receive books, the early evidence suggests that many of the books are going to families with few or no children's books at home.

There is also emerging evidence that the right books, in the right places, at the right time, in home and heart languages is having an impact on shared reading. All the families who had received books said they had read them to their children and that both they and their children were enjoying them, particularly if the children had been able to choose the book themselves.

The project has faced challenges. The community is diverse and books from the cultures of home and heart languages, including te reo Māori, are in limited supply and expensive. Their popularity has meant there is a constant demand for more.

Preparing and distributing 15,000 books has been heavy and hard work. It has, however, strengthened the project in other ways with volunteers asking how they might help.

Collaborative work can be challenging and trusting relationships take time to build and develop. ‘Progress moves at the rate of trust.’ Working to a range of different organisations' timeframes and requirements can make even small tasks time-consuming and frustrating. However, this too has had benefits, with the time spent on this project growing strong relationships that have assisted the partners and working group members work together on other projects.

A key concern related to the sustainability of the project once the books are distributed and the initial campaign ends. There has been a commitment from the partners to extend the programme and broaden the age range. Some interviewees believe connecting whānau with libraries could potentially help sustain the project. The community focus on the new South Dunedin library being planned and built will be central to this, becoming a space the community shape, feel at home in and want to use.

The early indications are that the conditions are being put in place to grow communities of readers in South Dunedin. The next phase of the project is designed to further strengthen the conditions that support further access to books, a joy of sharing stories, the affirmation of cultures and identities, reading for pleasure and the benefits communities of readers confer.

Appendix One: Method

The report is based on observational field notes, project documentation (including the Dunedin Co-design Process Report undertaken by the Methodist Mission Southern in 2019) and semi-structured interviews with families and whānau (55), children (27), businesses (7), NGOs, community groups and educators (11), and project leaders and the working group (9) undertaken by Point and Associates.

In September 2020 Point and Associates interviewed project leaders and working group members (9) about their ambitions for the South Dunedin Communities of Readers project and what they hoped to achieve. The interviewees included:

  • four National Library staff, including the Communities of Readers Programme Manager, the Reading Programme Lead , Communities of Readers, and two Dunedin-based facilitators, one who was employed specifically to support the project
  • the Dunedin City Council, Ara Toi (Arts and Culture), Relationship Manager
  • an Education Advisor for priority learners from theMinistry of Education
  • a Kaitoko representing the iwi partners
  • the youth outreach coordinator for the Dunedin Public Libraries network, and
  • the Library Services Manager, a project partner from the Dunedin Public Libraries network.

Following the delivery of two of three tranches of books to the South Dunedin community, Point and Associates spent a week in South Dunedin in April 2021 interviewing children (27), families and whānau (55) at a street festival, at the library, and on the main streets, cafés and takeaway shops of South Dunedin. The families and whānau were asked, via semi-structured interviews, if they had received the books, where from, whether they had a choice of books, whether they had read the books, whether it encouraged them to read more, their thoughts about the project and whether they saw themselves in the books and collateral. The children were asked what they thought of the books.

Businesses (7) were visited and were asked why they had got involved in the project, what they thought of it and what difference, if any, they thought it was making. NGOs, community groups and educators (11) were also visited and asked about their involvement in the project, why they had become involved, what they thought of it, and what difference, if any, they thought it was making to the children, families, whānau and communities of South Dunedin.

A meeting of the working group was convened in May 2021, during which they reflected on what they had learned from undertaking the project.


1 — Note that as people can select more than one ethnic group to belong to the total exceeds 100 percent. Source: Statistics New Zealand Ethnic group (single and combination), for the census usually resident population count, 2018 Censuses (RC, TA, SA2).

2 — Methodist Southern Mission (2019). Communities of Readers Dunedin Co-design Process. Wellington:Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa/National Library of New Zealand.

Alex Woodley
Point & Associates
May 2021

Download the South Dunedin Communities of Readers Project report

Download the South Dunedin Communities of Readers Project report(pdf, 2.70MB)