Building a Reading Nation



Despite its ability to enhance health, knowledge, and wellbeing, support for embedding reading in our daily lives is often overlooked. With national literacy and reading rates declining for children and adults alike, it’s time for urgent action.

By exploring effective approaches to encouraging reading alongside insights into advocacy from other industries, VOLUME will provide a platform to untangle the issues affecting reading engagement. 

We’ll look at how we might tell a strong, unified story about the benefits of reading, and consider how we might work with partners and government to create a nation of readers.

We invite you to be part of this free, online program on Thursday 21 September 2023, and help turn up the VOLUME on the value of reading.

Please note: Attendance at the VOLUME symposium can be logged as ALIA-accredited Professional Development.

Explore the full program below, and read the full speaker biographies on this page.

All times Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST).

Our symposium MC, Jess Scully, welcomes attendees to VOLUME and invites proud Wiradjuri woman, Savannah Fynn, to deliver a Welcome to Country.

Yuwaalaraay author and performer, Nardi Simpson, delivers an inspiring opening keynote about the relationship between reading, storytelling, and place in Australia.

Australia Reads representative, Anna Burkey, sets the scene for reading in Australia, and outlines the challenges – and opportunities – we face as a sector.

National literacy and reading rates are declining, along with the number of adults and children reading for pleasure, but why is this? The reasons are complex and may not be what you would expect. 


  • Dr Jan Zwar (Chair) – Faculty Research Manager and book industry researcher, Macquarie Business School
  • Ben Bowen – CEO, Indigenous Literacy Foundation
  • Professor Robyn Ewing AM – Co-Director, CREATE Centre
  • Anita PlanchonDirector, Strategy and Engagement, Libraries Tasmania

In this series of Lightning Talks, experts share insights into innovative ways to engage with different types of readers of all ages. From immersive digital reading experiences to networks of book clubs, plus research into young readers, we get a glimpse into some of the programs making an impact in Australia.

Lightning Talk presenters:

  • Char McCallum – Social Media Manager, Tandem Collective
  • Dr Bronwyn Reddan – Research Fellow, Pathways to Teenage Reading, Deakin University
  • Shay Leighton – Director, Tough Guy Book Club

Take a break, escape your screen, then re-join us for the afternoon sessions – bring your lunch!

By exploring three case study organisations from our sister market in the UK, we look at ‘what’s possible’ when it comes to planning and implementing successful national reading programs. From the research that drives these programs, and the partnerships that support them, explore how these organisations are each delivering diverse reading campaigns across a wide range of audiences. 

Case Study speakers:

  • Debbie Hicks – Creative Director, The Reading Agency (UK)
  • Jonathan Douglas –  CEO, National Literacy Trust (UK)
  • Philippa Cochrane – Head of Reading Communities, Scottish Book Trust (UK)

What’s required to mount a successful social change campaign? In this panel discussion, we’ll hear from leading experts from across behavioural science, social innovation, advertising and marketing, for the latest thinking in selling ideas. Come primed with your questions ready for a Q&A session which will explore how these ideas can be applied in getting Australia reading. 


  • Jess Scully (Chair) – Author, curator, city-maker
  • Mark Chenery – Co-Founder & Director, Common Cause
  • Nithya Solomon – Director, RMIT Health Transformation Lab
  • Sarah Kneebone  – Education Manager, BehaviourWorks Australia

From crafting compelling messages through to effective advocacy, what does it take to create a persuasive campaign and bring others with you? Hear from those who’ve successfully delivered social and behavioural change across a wide range of audiences and outcomes in this series of Lightning Talks.

Lightning Talk presenters:

  • Kathryn Gledhill-Tucker – Technologist, writer & digital rights activist
  • Scott Ludlam – Former Greens senator & author
  • Lizzie O’Shea – Chair, Digital Rights Watch
  • Kylie Robertson – Co-Founder, Matterworks
  • Sandeep Varma – Founder & CEO, SAARI Collective

A panel of speakers from across the book industry discuss what the future of Australia as a reading nation could look like. What if we had high literacy rates, a flourishing book industry, and a society that widely celebrated reading? How would this affect the social and economic life of Australia? How could we work together to shape this future?


  • Jess Scully (Chair) – Author, curator, city-maker
  • Robbie Egan – CEO, BookPeople
  • Sarah Kneebone – Education Manager, BehaviourWorks Australia
  • Kate Larsen – Writer & arts consultant
  • And more to be announced

Our MC, Jess Scully, wraps up the program for the day. 


VOLUME is made possible thanks to support from Creative Australia

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