As part of our April newsletter, and in line with the focus on World Book Day, we talked to Atlanta Meyer, Chair of IFLA’s Literacy and Reading Section, about her perspectives on the importance of books and reading today, and what her Section has planned:

From your experience and that of your Section, how has the importance of books and reading been affected by the last two years?

The Literacy and Reading Section is currently focussing on Reading for Well-being. This subject has been our main focus over the last two years and we are currently planning initiatives and programs around Bibliotherapy, Shared Reading, Mindful Reading and Storytelling. Reading is a way for communities to connect and heal, especially during the ongoing pandemic in different ways.   

The last two years allowed our unit to turn the focus on reading and the mental health benefits around reading. Reading allows us to escape for a few minutes (or hours) from the difficult world we live in these days, it’s like a retreat we can escape to and slow down. 

And from my experience at our library, when we contacted our vulnerable customers during the lockdown they only asked for books, when we re-opened our libraries our customers were most excited about the books. As a librarian, I was surprised that the library’s books were the most wanted item, not the printer or the free internet, but the books. It was a great feeling and still is, and I believe the importance of books and reading has been affected in a positive way by our library users and communities and their stories.  

 Do you think that the potential of libraries to support books and reading is always adequately recognised and realised by policy-makers? 

No, I don’t think so, but I feel very strongly that there is going to be a change. When the pandemic started, libraries and books were not considered essential by many countries when restrictions and lockdowns were implemented. And I can understand why: we are in a pandemic and I want to say a library and a book is essential when people need urgent medical attention, food and jobs.  

When libraries had to close, the library staff took the books outside, to their communities. There are many heart-warming and innovative stories of pop-up libraries, home deliveries, click and collect services, online book clubs and how libraries collaborated with other industries to deliver books and reading programs to their communities.  

My hope is that these initiatives and stories will influence policy-makers to recognise libraries as an industry that can be flexible and adapt, and connect and provide for their communities during tough times. 

What should our priorities be at IFLA around reading promotion? 

Reading is FUN!  

Reading brings people together, ignites the imagination, develops creativity, and provide a sense of belonging. 

We know the importance and benefits of reading and how to promote these, but we don’t know how to promote reading for fun and I think that is where we should start.