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Twenty years ago Roger Boore, the owner of a new Welsh publishing house specialising in children's books, suggested guidelines that could be adopted as performance indicators for assessing the success or otherwise of minority languages in meeting the needs of their community. In the field of children's books Boore proposed two criteria - one based on the quantity and the other based on the quality of output. Although there did not appear to be a scientific basis for his proposal that the minimum output of children's and school books in a minority language should be 150 titles per annum and that this figure should be between 200-300 for a majority language, his assumption that more titles were needed to safeguard the majority language appears has been accepted uncritically.
This may be a reasonable enough assumption if we accept the definition of a minority language as one where the speakers of that language accept that they receive most of their culture and communications through the medium of the majority language, i.e. that its members must be bilingual in order to experience life to the full. However, where the minority language community is determined that its speakers can live as much as possible of their lives through the medium of their first language then the minimum output of titles would need to be greater than the figure for majority languages. Logic suggests that it could not be otherwise especially in examples, such as the Welsh language, where the minority language is striving to revive its fortune.
The most recent Welsh-language census shows that only 18.7% of the 2,789,500 over the age of 3 living in Wales speak the language and even fewer read Welsh. The continued decline in the number and proportion of Welsh-speakers during the twentieth century is the result of a complex combination of economic, social and cultural factors. A more detailed examination of this and earlier censuses by age shows that the highest proportions of Welsh-speakers are to be found in the oldest age band. The 1991 census showed a slight reversal to this long-standing decline amongst the lowest age band - probably as a result of more enlightened language policies in schools over the past few decades. This encouraging upturn in the fortune of the language was confirmed in a survey conducted in 1989-90 (2) which showed that some 29,349 (or 13.67%) of primary school children were fluent Welsh-speakers and a further 28,295 (13.2%) had some degree of knowledge of the language. The significance of these statistics for the publishing industry is that they must ensure that they provide suitable reading material not only for first-language users but also for the much larger group of children for whom Welsh is a second language. It is in the context of adopting measures to reverse the decline of the language that we should evaluate the success or otherwise of Welsh language publishing for children.
In order for a minority language to flourish, books produced in minority languages must compare favourably in terms of quality with comparable materials in the respective majority language. Research has shown that this is particularly true amongst young children as they are less likely to have a deep sense of loyalty or allegiance to their native language and culture. In essence this is the challenge which has faced Welsh-language publishers for the past fifty years. Of course, this challenge is shared with many other minority languages in bilingual or multilingual countries which is why my aim here is to describe and evaluate the effectiveness of some of the main strategies adopted to meet the reading needs of Welsh-speaking children.
At the beginning of the 1950s - through a combination of high production costs and a small and diminishing market - the Welsh publishing industry found itself in crisis. The difficulties of the industry were further exasperated by the fact that 'Owing to the contracting market, only a small variety of books can be published: owing to the lack of variety only a few can be sold.' (4) It is not surprising therefore that many insiders believed that the industry was on the verge of extinction. It is in the context of these structural difficulties to the Welsh book trade that we should begin our assessment of the achievements and failures of the period between 1950 and 1978.
The paucity of new titles for Welsh-speaking children was a recurring theme in several official reports during this phase. For example, evidence presented by School Inspectors to the Committee set up in 1951 to examine Welsh language publishing claimed that there were insufficient general reading books to meet 'the needs of a good Primary education along modern lines of development'.(5) Voluntary and official initiatives established between the mid-1950s and mid 1960s - especially an agreement with Local Education Authorities on guaranteed sales of approved new books to schools - helped ease the crisis although an investigation conducted at this time found that there were still 'many deficiencies, both of quality and quantity' of children's and school books.(6) The findings of earlier reports were echoed in a Council for the Welsh Language report in 1978 which confirmed that 'Nowhere is the effect of the shortage of books in the Welsh language more acute than in the supply of reading material for young readers'.(7) Further support for these claims can be found in a recently published bibliography which shows that only 20 new titles were produced in 1950 and, despite some improvements during the 1950s, the output was just 30 in 1963.(8) The 1970s did show a welcome improvement, yet only 100 new children's and school books appeared in 1977 - significantly fewer than the 150 such titles suggested by Roger Boore as the minimum annual output to ensure viability for a minority language.(9) But by the mid-1970s the dependence on the school market meant that these titles did not provide sufficient variety but, nevertheless, in the circumstances this increased output was rightly seen as a welcome achievement.
However, there were no fundamental flaws in this drive to substantially increase the output. The following remarks by a leading educationalist and commentator on children's books offers a timely note of caution:
With some notable exceptions, the quality of writing of children's books during this phase of development was generally poor. This is hardly surprising considering that they were part-time authors who squeezed in this activity between the demands of work, family and their immediate community, so they had little, if any, time to develop their writing skills. In the absence of professionally trained staff most Welsh publishing houses were not in a position to provide the editorial support and guidance that would have enabled many of these enthusiasts to master the craft of writing for children. Much the same criticism was levelled at the quality of illustrations and the overall design of children's and school books during this period. (11)
The contracting market is only part of explanation for the disappointing sales of Welsh children's books during the 1960s and 1970s. Another factor was the failure of most publishing houses to produce effective marketing strategies for their products. In 1967 a report on primary education in Wales compared the efforts of Welsh language publishing houses with English educational publishers who, with their vastly superior resources, were able to 'bombard schools with colourful and attractive catalogues'. (12) Evidence that the need for more vigorous campaigning had not been resolved was provided by the fact that this aspect of the book trade was one of the key themes of the 1978 report. Unfortunately most Welsh publishing houses were far too small and too poorly resourced to employ staff with professional expertise in the areas of marketing and promotion. Neither did the inherent weaknesses in the distribution and structure of retail outlets for Welsh language books offer much hope for any worthwhile improvement in book sales.
Having identified the shortcomings in the provision of children's and school books and some of the structural weaknesses of the book trade it would be surprising had this not had a serious impact on the reading habits of Welsh-speaking children. The findings of two research studies conducted during the 1960s and 1970s, one by I. J. Leng (13) and the other by Huw Jenkins(14), showed that at the age of 9 or 10 many Welsh-speaking children opted to read books in the majority language - English - rather than Welsh. Although there were many similarities in the results of the two investigations, they drew slightly different conclusions. Both, however, considered that the 'inadequacies of Welsh reading materials' (15) played a significant role in this shift in reading habits. Leng was not entirely convinced that the production of a plentiful supply of suitable Welsh-language reading material could arrest 'the drift of Welsh-speaking children towards English books' because of the dominant role of the majority language amongst the 10+ age group - even amongst those who came from Welsh-speaking homes.(16) Jenkins, however, found some evidence of a small shift back to Welsh-language books amongst some of his respondents. Significantly there was a correlation between this phenomenon with those whose homes had more Welsh than English books and who attended schools which had a positive attitude to Welsh books. From these findings one can see the key role of the home and school in the promotion of books and reading in a minority language.
We can conclude this phase of development by stating that by the mid 1970s the main initiatives to improving the output of Welsh reading material for children was close to meeting the first part of the challenge - providing an adequate supply of new titles - but there was still a need to introduce further strategies in order to improve the range as well as the quality of that output and also to actively promote books and reading. One Welsh language publishing house, Gwasg y Dref Wen, established by Roger Boore in 1970, felt that the most cost-effective way to improve both the quantity and quality for young children was to join international co-editions of some of the finest picture books of the day. In 1974 Mairwen Gwynn Jones produced a report on children's literature in Wales to the Welsh Arts Council which included an impressive shopping list that was needed to improve both the quality and variety of such books and also to present books and reading as a stimulating and worthwhile activity.
In 1976 a similar scheme for the production of titles at the other end of the spectrum was being administered by the Literature Committee of the Welsh Arts Council, although it was not until the 1980s that this initiative bore fruit with the production of a small number of high quality picture books. (19)
In addition to the shortage of general reading material for children there had been a growing concern regarding the production of textbooks to meet the needs following the expansion of Welsh-medium education. Until the end of the 1970s the only source of support was the Welsh Textbook Scheme launched by the Welsh Joint Education Committee, but this scheme failed to make a significant impact on the provision through lack of financial resources. This area has experienced a dramatic transformation since the early 1980s with the injection of very large sums of state funding both to develop and produce learning resources to meet the growing demand for materials to conduct Welsh medium education and to teach Welsh as a second language which had been given an enormous boost with the introduction of the National Curriculum for 5-16 year old children in 1988.
Together these state funded initiatives have transformed children's and school book publishing to such an extent that this area is now the dominant branch of the Welsh book market. For example, statistics for 1993 show that 369 (or 67%) of all new titles produced in the Welsh language in that year were aimed at young people or schools. (20)
Another marketing strategy employed by the Welsh Books Council with State Support is their Schools Project. This scheme, set up in 1992 in order to promote book buying and reading in primary schools, is a combination of school visits to offer advice to teachers and a regular mailshot of information about new books etc. During 1996/7 alone the School Officers visited 751 schools and courses and orders valued at £221,652 were collected.(22)
Another integral part of the Welsh Books Council's policy to disseminate information about Welsh children's and school books is the production - with the support of the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority of Wales - of an annual catalogue of Welsh books and educational resources which is distributed widely. Approximately 3, 500 items are listed in this catalogue of which some 480 are new titles.