The dawn of 2016 saw the libraries embarking on new ventures to launch books as way to promote the culture of reading and writing. I have seen University of Johannesburg and University of South Africa launching in the library to inculcate this culture as more and more university students are accepted without language proficiency
As a background I wish to alert you of a study by UN education agency that confirms that at least 250 million of the world's 650 million primary school age children are unable to read, write or do basic mathematics. The survey asked adults over the age of 15, whose level of education was lower than Grade 7, whether or not they are able to, have some difficulty, or have a lot of difficultly in writing their name, reading, and filling in a form, writing a letter, calculating monetary change or reading road signs.
The survey found about 2.643 million people in South Africa to have some or a lot of difficultly reading, or are unable to read. This corresponds to almost 7% of the country’s adult population.
Another fact that it is becoming readily accepted is that South Africans do not read books. They read newspapers and magazines – more than two-thirds of South Africans regularly read print media, according to the South African Book Development Council – but they are not so-called committed readers: only 1% of South Africans regularly buy books and only 14% are regular book readers, figures far below the estimated literacy rate of 88.7%.
On a closer level within our campus we are seeing on a daily basis university students being sent to read graded readers in the library and the library having to spend some of its budget on easy-to-read books. Obviously this should not be a problem at a university level, as by this time all students should not have language problems, but they do.
So the question is what can we do to assist students who are already here to stimulate their love for reading and writing so that, when they leave the university, they did not only acquire skills to read, but have fallen in love with the act itself.
An article by David Harrison about a seasoned author Sindiwe Magona in the Mail and Guardian dated the 19 October 2012, says a reading culture is not possible until youngsters can 'meet' books and fall in love. With our book launches we are attempting to make reading and writing fashionable so our students can meet and interact with authors and have an opportunity to ask questions. We believe this will not only motivate our students to read but also to write. This is our contribution for South Africans to begin to talk about books and a culture of reading.
We can go on a blaming the school system, the library infrastructure, lack of money to buy books due to poverty, and all sorts of things.
Until the infrastructure is improved, other ways of making books available have to be explored, e.g. initiatives such as Nal'ibali, organizations such as Yoza and the FunDza Literacy Trust. We are also obliged to make a contribution.
It is a fact that the problem is too deep-rooted to be treated with just good books and book launches. A radically different approach is needed. The question is: at what point does addressing South Africa's reading culture become not just a postscript to the goals of better education, economic growth and social healing, but a crucial means to these exact ends?
Maybe is time we open a national debate about it, otherwise, we will keep amassing deficits that no one can afford to pay.
This is one of the challenges that the new breed of library leaders should take into account as the plan the future of the profession. Do we build stake of the art libraries for those who can read and write or do we have a responsibility to create a reading and writing nation to sound library programmes?