Nov 03, 2017

The Book Readers' World

“Reading makes minds alive, brings people inspiration and wisdom. If our country wants to make progress continuously, we must advocate reading and learning. China must become a learning power. Learning leads to a future.” President Xi Jinping : “Nationwide Reading” initiative 2015

Google has counted the number of book titles as approximately 130 million in the world with the available sources. The ISBN system has been around for 40 years, and all books produced during the 500 years before the introduction of the ISBN is still to be counted and scattered around government publications of each country, library systems, universities, religious institutes, and private collections.

Every year in Sri Lanka, 4,000 – 5,000 new titles are published in all three languages. It means, Sri Lanka is a "Reading society". The idea of "World Reading Day" goes all the way back to that put forth by the International Publishers Association. In 1995, UNESCO officially announced April 23rd as "World Reading Day".

China’s most renowned and greatest teacher Confucius, born in the same era as Socrates and Sakyamuni, believed that effective governing of the nation's people was not just financial growth, but also an education on value orientation. Hence, the beginning of The Analects of Confucius emphasizes the importance of learning and reading.  

Professor Liu Binjie, a Chinese a scholar, doctoral supervisor and senior economist, Dean of School of Journalism and Communication in Tsinghua University discussed the importance of creating a "Reading society" at the 30th Anniversary of Beijing Book Fair this year. Below are excerpts from his speech.

China has become the country with the most published books, which shows the spiritual creation and cultural charm of the Chinese nation and further consolidates the cultural confidence. Culture is the unique human spirit gene, which gives the infinite wisdom of mankind, the eternal memory and the power of civilization. Publication and books are the support of culture. With books, you will see ancient pictures of ancient times; with books, you will find the souls of sacred homes; with books, you will master the skills of being successful and having a career; with books, you will walk on the bright road of constant progress. Publishing work is a thing of great kindness and love, which is worth devoting our whole lives to.

The future publishing industry will be oriented to a comprehensive well-off society, which must be people-oriented and guided by core socialist values, to maximize the needs of the new era of readers.

The future publishing industry will be full of market competition. We must make such market values play a fundamental role in the aspects of resource allocation, price regulation, human competition and copyright trade and so on, to improve quality, efficiency, level and overall strength.

The future publishing industry must serve public reading. Based on market research, publishing houses and institutions should accurately plan and publish various outstanding books for public service. The future publishing industry will also be characterized by international integration. It should not only “go global” but also “bring in”. Hence, cross-cultural exchanges will be an overwhelming trend.

China has over the last few years begun programmes extensively focused on promoting reading. Some are innovative and use internet to promote reading while creating a new "web reading culture". Speaking at this year's International Book Fair at the BMICH Cui Jianwei, Vice President of China Publications and Promotion Association (CPPA) detailed their approach. Here are a few excerpts from his long speech.

In addition to national public libraries, there are various reading institutions and groups. In recent years, many book rooms called “Study of Peasants” have been established in rural areas of China, thereby playing an important role in improving the culture and professional skills of Chinese peasants. In many cities, various forms of reading clubs were built such as "Home of Staff", "Home of Colleagues", and "Community Libraries" and so on. In some areas, some people open domestic libraries for residents and villagers.

In order to guide “Nationwide Reading” activities and recommend good books for the audience, CCTV and other provincial television stations have made and played various reading programs such as “Knowledge Contest”, “Lecture Room” and “Chinese Classical Poetry Quiz Show” and so on.

China's major websites, such as Sina, Sohu, and Netease, etc, has set up specific reading columns. In addition, it is convenient for readers to purchase books on China's three major book purchasing websites: DangDang, JingDong and Amazon. This well accommodates the youth habit on online or electronic reading.

Chinese people have already shared the idea of “Nationwide Reading”, which is now well established in Chinese society and has become a trend amongst the youth. In recent years, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television made the “Charm of Chinese Books ”, the nationwide reading TV show, organized the "Home of Books", the national book-recommendation activities, launched the “Top 50 Favourite Books”, the national appraisal activities of excellent books, and carried on some activities of book-recommendation for the youth. It also organized and implemented the projects of “Study of Peasants” and “Urban and Rural Reading Column” covering more than 60 million administrative villages.

Many provinces and cities have their own large-scale reading activities. These activities last long in a variety of forms in different regions, promoting the development of reading services and enhancing the service capability of public culture. In 2013, Shenzhen was awarded the "Global Model City of Nationwide Reading" by UNESCO.

People also have access to books and reading by visiting automatic borrowers, mobile library vans, mobile book corners and 24-hour bookstores. The rate and volume of national reading only keeps growing.

Sri Lanka Library Services and Documentation Board organizes various activities to promote reading across the country through the library network. Yet there is much we can learn from the Chinese experience and of it can be replicated here in Sri Lanka. We need to "provincialise" the programmes for greater reach.

- Dinesh Kulatunge
Sri Lanka Book Publishers' Association