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Leveraging power of book to combat isolation

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As the world battles with coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has said what is needed now is, ‘magic of books’.

In a statement to mark the World Book Day on April 23, UNESCO said: “Now, more than ever, at a time where most of the schools around the world are closed and people are having to limit their time spent outside, the power of books should be leveraged to combat isolation, reinforce ties between people, expand our horizons while stimulating our minds and creativity.”

UNESCO said: “In a world disrupted by #COVID19, it is the magic of books that we need now. Let’s unleash the power of reading to dream, to learn and to help us build a better tomorrow!”

The organisation added, “through reading and the celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, April 23, we can open ourselves to others despite the distance, and we can travel thanks to the imagination. By creating a sense of community through the shared readings and the shared knowledge, readers around the world can connect and mutually help curb loneliness.”

Summing these up, Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO, said: “Books have the unique ability both to entertain and to teach. They are at once a means of exploring realms beyond our personal experience through exposure to different authors, universes and cultures, and a means of accessing the deepest recesses of our inner selves.”

In another statement jointly signed by some players in the Nigerian book industry to celebrate the day amidst the current COVID-19 challenges, the authors enjoined book lovers and readers to stay safe.

They noted that in the face of global challenges, books have offered “our nation so great opportunity with its positive impact being felt in all ramifications from the development of literacy to growth in education, contribution to the nation’s GDP, instilling peace into mankind, personal development, engaging all and sundry even at a solitary time such as this.

“Books have enabled us to learn how to develop our skills and hone it further, relate with one another peaceably as well as open our mind to converting initiative into creativity and inventions that make the world a better place to live.”

The statement, which was signed by Gbadega Adedapo, Chairman — Nigerian Book Fair Trust (NBFT) and also President, Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA); Denja Abdullahi, immediate past President of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA); Dare Oluwatuyi, President, Booksellers Association of Nigeria (BAN); Malomo Olugbemi, President, Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria (CIPPON) and Prof. Innocent Ekoja, President, Nigerian Library Association (NLA), noted, “knowledge and skills in all sectors such as education, health, environment, water, energy, industry, gender equality, peace and security, and reviving the economy are paramount at this moment; which can only be achieved with the collective influence of the book industry.”

The statement said, “we, the book industry players in Nigeria are not just celebrating books, our excitement is embedded in the fact that we are great contributors to ensuring the availability of books to the masses.

“The author writes and prepares the manuscripts, the manuscripts get edited, illustration done and packaged by publishers to make a book which in turn is converted to readable physical and electronic formats for onward availability to end-users through the booksellers and get the book shelved for easy access and archiving. It is indeed a great time to celebrate everything about books not leaving out the brains behind its production and availability.”

The authors of the statement commended authors, publishers, illustrators, printers, booksellers and librarians tirelessly working together to ensure books reach the readers. “How else do we appreciate those who ensured the copyright of those books are well protected to enable industry investors to have their Return On Investment?

“It is obvious that in whatever form the book comes, it radiates light into the darkest part that is seemingly incomprehensible. Many thanks to lovers of books who after all, encourage its further production by purchasing and improving their lives. Beyond books, we celebrate the readers who have defied all temptations to get swayed away by the dying reading culture.”

They called on book lovers and readers in Nigeria and beyond to stay home and stay safe reading books. “If there’s a way to make the most of the moment, then it is by studying and reading books. By extension, parents have in extempore now turn official educator with integrated engagement so guide the children and their wards through books.”

While saying the current pandemic has dealt a huge blow on the industry, the authors of the statement raised “the need for government’s support to get over the negative impact on our activities as we gasp for oxygen to survive.”

They called on government to consider the book industry in its economic response strategies.

“Our industry keeps making frantic efforts to keep abreast of the current book demands, exploring every possible means to further meet the demands of book readers in concordant with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, as it concerns inclusive and equitable quality education that promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all,” they said in their statement.

April 23 is a symbolic date for world literature. It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Maurice Druon, Haldor K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo.

It was a natural choice for UNESCO’s General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those, who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.

With this in mind, UNESCO created the World Book and Copyright Day. The day is celebrated by a growing number of partners and since its launch has shown itself to be a great opportunity for reflection and information on a significant theme.

It is observed by millions of people in over 100 countries, in hundreds of voluntary organisations, schools, public bodies, professional groups and private businesses.

In this lengthy period, the Day has won over a considerable number of people from every continent and all cultural backgrounds to the cause of books and copyright.

It has enabled them to discover, make the most of and explore in greater depth a multitude of aspects of the publishing world: books as vectors of values and knowledge, and depositories of the intangible heritage; books as windows onto the diversity of cultures and as tools for dialogue; books as sources of material wealth and copyright-protected works of creative artists.

All of these aspects have been the subject of numerous awareness-raising and promotional initiatives that have had a genuine impact. There must nevertheless be no let-up in these efforts.

This year, the book day event had four slogans:
• Read… so that no strangers remain
• Read… grow wings and travel
• Read… so that no culture stays unknown
• Read… so you never feel alone

From April 1 to 23, UNESCO shared quotes, poems and messages to symbolise the power of books and encourage reading as much as possible. It is believed that by creating a sense of community through the shared readings and the shared knowledge, readers around the world could connect and mutually help curb loneliness.

Each year, UNESCO and the international organisations representing the three major sectors of the book industry – publishers, booksellers and libraries, select the World Book Capital for a one-year period, effective 23 April each year.

The city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia was selected because of the strong focus on inclusive education, the development of a knowledge-based society and accessible reading for all parts of the city’s population.

With the slogan “KL Baca – caring through reading”, the program focuses on four themes: reading in all its forms, development of the book industry infrastructure, inclusiveness and digital accessibility, and empowerment of children through reading. Among other events and activities there will be the construction of a book city (the Kota Buku Complex), a reading campaign for train commuters, enhancing of digital services and accessibility by the National Library of Malaysia for the disabled, and new digital services for libraries in 12 libraries in poor housing areas of Kuala Lumpur.

The city’s objective is to foster a culture of reading and inclusiveness – “A city that reads is a city that cares” – emphasizing ubiquitous access to books throughout the city. The city’s ambitious programme for World Book Capital is linked to the Vision 2020 for Kuala Lumpur and the eco-city project called the River of Life with open-air bookshops and libraries populating the newly restored waterways of the city.

With the support of the Presidency, the Government of Rivers State and UNESCO Nigeria, Rainbow Book Club bidded for Port Harcourt to be UNESCO World Book Capital 2014. Other World Book Capitals have included Alexandria (Egypt) in 2002, Antwerp (Belgium) in 2004, Montreal (Canada) in 2005 and Incheon (South Korea) in 2015.


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