The SDG Book Club was an idea formed through a unique collaboration between the IPA and the United Nations and involved the full spectrum of the book chain. The idea was simple; to use books as tool to encourage children aged between 6-12 to understand sustainability and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Originally launched in the six official UN languages, the idea was quickly adopted for local markets with the first SDG library established in Norway in 2020. One year on, we invited Kristin Ørjasæter, Managing Director of the Norwegian Institute for Children Books to reflect on the success, to hear about their future plans and advise for others hoping to establish their own SDG library.
How did you create and launch the Norwegian chapter of the SDG Book Club?
The Norwegian Publishers' Association (NPA) took the initiative to create the SDG Library with the Norwegian Institute for Children’s Books helping to manage the project through a dedicated secretariat.
The success of the project depending on bringing together several organizations from different parts of the literary field. As a team, we worked out which books should be included in the SDG Library, and made activities and assignments linked to the books. The team also collaborated on marketing and communication strategies, so that the SDG Library would reach out to our various networks.
What were your challenges and what have you learnt?
We launched the SDG library in 2021 in midst of the global pandemic. We had to think of a new digital marketing strategy to reach children and teachers online rather than through events and schools. We created a series of videos with authors from the SDG library where they explained the SDG and its relevance to the content of the books. The videos were distributed throughout our combined networks and teachers and librarians used the videos in their activities and on social media.
A year after launch, how are you measuring success?
There are several aspects we have been monitoring and evaluating. The first is awareness and understanding of the UN SDGs. We believe there is a big interest for the SDG Library and sustainability more generally in Norway. Looking at trends in the current market, the SDG library has made publishers more aware of the SDGs. There are now more books focusing on nature and climate change, and there has also been an increase on books focusing on social and community related topics. Also, The Norwegian Institute for Children’s Books and the NPA worked closely with the publishers leading up to the launch as several books chosen for the library had to be printed in new editions.
For teachers and librarians, the SDG Library is close at hand. The book lists and activities are all available on the website, posters and bookmarks have been sent to schools and libraries. Some libraries have made their own videos and digital resources. The Norwegian Institute for Children’s Books believe the project has led to more people focusing on the SDGs through a literary lens.
In more concrete terms, we have had more than 15000 unique visitors and more than 70 000 hits on the website. We also find social media is a great driver for raising awareness and encouraging many others to use the library.
What impact do you think the SDG Library has had on children’s literature?
The Norwegian Institute for Children’s Books ambition is that children’s literature will be able to evolve freely, and that both authors and publishers will be interested in exploring new perspectives and questions concerning the sustainable development goals.
While working on this project, it has been important to focus on the cultural and aesthetic side of literature. We created a guide for teachers and librarians to avoid focusing solely on the didactics, but rather let the children read, reflect and discuss the theme of the books from their own perspective. Children need to experience literature on their own terms, without adults telling them how to interpret the stories.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, we see the market evolving with not just an increase of sustainability focused books but also an increase in non-fiction books for children.
What are the plans for the future?
With less than 10 years left to achive the SDGs, it is our hope that the SDG library will be used for many years. It is therefore important to reach new audiences and ensure that schools, libraries and other institutions benefit from this project for many years to come.
At The Norwegian Institute for Children’s Books we are, as mentioned, working closely with the rest of the SDG Library team to reach out to potential new users. We are aiming to update the booklists every year with new titles and are looking to introduce a new booklist for older children aged 12-16, which will be ready for the new school term starting this August.