Molding young readers with aid of imagination

We want children to love books, enjoy them and learn from them. We want them to have broad knowledge and a critical capacity; to be conscientious, well-informed citizens. But how easy is it for someone to become a reader? «It’s difficult to mold a reader,» says Elga Kavvadia, general manager of the Organization of Children’s and Adolescents’ Libraries (OPEB), in an interview with Kathimerini. «It takes imagination to see how to provide a child with the stimulus to make them seek out books where they can learn more about subjects that interest them.» Since its inception in 1984, OPEB has been working on its appointed task of disseminating and promoting books for adolescents and children. It has had great success but has been hampered in recent years by underfunding. The initial network of 22 libraries that it created in towns and villages around Greece – from Soufli in northern Greece to Pyrgos in Crete – eventually grew to 28. But there was no increase in funding, which remained at 400,000 euros a year, and was reduced to 300,000 this year by the Education Ministry. By contrast, fixed costs are close to 900,000 a year. The organization has acquired some funding, from the Bodossakis Foundation (which covers two libraries in Thrace and one in Lavrio), and from the Cultural and Social Benefit Foundation in Soufli. One indication of OPEB’s dire economic situation is that it owes 18 months’ worth of contributions to the IKA social security fund, while its workers have not been paid for four months. These are the very people who are the backbone of the organization, who have maintained its high level and kept the interest of children in books for so many years. On average, each library is visited by 50 to 70 a day, and children (and their parents) borrow 80 books a day. The libraries are for youngsters aged 4-18, and are open from 3 to 6 p.m., except for Mondays and Sundays. Each carries 6,000 titles, as well as magazines, cassettes, slides and board games. Every month OPEB sends each library 40-50 books, though that number is no longer stable, due to the current economic malaise. OPEB also sends a program on a specific theme, accompanied by books and audiovisual material. Apart from setting up libraries in small towns and villages, where every child – and adult – has access to them, OPEB teaches through games. Children learn about new subjects by looking at pictures and slides, playing with puppets, making paper cutouts or listening to stories told by trained staff. Then, the children can look for books about these topics. In this way, they become familiar with books and learn how to use them to gather information on topics that interest them. «You cannot imagine how interested the children were in books about China when we had a program recently on the country that will be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games,» Kavvadia says. «We showed them slides and pictures of China. We talked about silk and Chinese calligraphy. We made dolls together. They drew Chinese children. When the program was over, it was extraordinary how they fell on the books about China.” She looks enthusiastic as she recalls the scene. But is enthusiasm and the dedication of a few individuals enough to keep up the organization’s worthwhile efforts?