by Zakir Hossain
April 23 is a symbolic date for world literature. Since 1995, World Book and Copyright Day has been held annually under the auspices of UNESCO.
This date was chosen because April 23 marks the anniversary of the birth or death of a range of internationally renowned writers and also because of the Catalan traditions surrounding this day.
In Catalonia, a region of Spain, April 23 is known as La Diada de Sant Jordi (St George's Day) and it is traditional for sweethearts to exchange books and roses.
Viet Nam also celebrates World Book and Copyright Day under the backing of UNESCO and Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MoCST) Viet Nam. The National Library and other provincial and district public libraries also observe the day to inspire people, particularly students, to read and use libraries.
I personally believe that in the next couple of years it will be extremely crucial for Viet Nam to celebrate the day, as the country has just approved a decision to build a Learning Society by 2020. To fulfill this goal, the country also established a Lifelong Learning Center under the patronage of Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO).
In building a Learning Society in Viet Nam, the Government in association with the National Library (including the public library) may consider a National Reading Week that informs public, school, university and cultural centre libraries to implement reading promotion programmes to mark the Week.
The occasion would also involve conducting national level seminars on reading and literacy, book donations to school libraries in underprivileged areas, excursions to libraries at schools where there are no libraries, distribution of bookmarks, literary competitions and actions to promote the understanding of laws on copyright and the protection of authors' intellectual property.
Lastly, print and electronic media in the country should include ‘Children Reading' events in their programmes.
Moreover, to inspire a love of reading in students, school and public libraries play a vital role. Research shows that in Viet Nam, students and teachers are largely unaware of public library resources and school timetables are too rigid to take advantage of useful library events.
I've visited several public school and university libraries in HCM City and talked to library users regarding their satisfaction with libraries. They said that library materials are outdated and library furniture is uncomfortable; moreover, library staff are unfriendly! In fact, I had the same feelings about all the city's libraries, except HCM City General Science Library.
To overcome these shortcomings, I believe school libraries should be the strategic partner of local public libraries and public libraries need to update and widen their collections to ensure all sorts of users are satisfied.
Teachers should encourage maximum use of the library and its resources by giving students assignments and projects that necessitate frequent visits to the library. Teachers and librarians alike should activate reader development policies that increase readers' confidence to choose books across a wide range of imaginative literature.
Finally, creating a Learning Society will require a continuous process of innovation. In this regard, launching new forms of libraries – in parks and coffeehouses, at bus and train stops – and initiating library-based adult and family literacy programmes would be wonderful enterprises.
They would fulfill the demands of novelty-hunting young generations – especially in developing countries like Viet Nam – and enhance reading habits, creating lifelong learners and building a Learning Society. — VNS
* Zakir Hossain is the manager of the Library and Information Centre of the SEAMEO Regional Training Centre. The author writes to Viet Nam News on the occasion of World Book and Copyright Day 2013, April 23.