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Creating a Reading Society in Sri Lanka

A reading society is an indicator of development. In the past, only economic factors were taken into consideration in measuring development. But today, economic factors as well as socio-cultural factors are considered in achieving development goals. A knowledged society is an important characteristic of development. For creating a knowledged society, reading promotion is an essential requirement.

Reading is important for the individual in different ways. Different people read for different purposes, like formal education, entertainment, informal education, obtaining social knowledge, professional development, etc. The generally accepted fact is that reading among the Sri Lankan people has declined. Several factors have affected this backwardness in reading.

People’s competitive lifestyle is a main reason for this backwardness. People have to work hard to make their living. Introduction of the electronic media has seriously affected the reading behaviour of the people. People obtain information from other sources, such as, computer, Internet etc. instead of books.

A huge amount of information can be searched through Internet within a short period of time. This situation has also reduced the reading of the people. Other socio-cultural factor, such as family environment, educational level of family members, income level also affect the reading behaviour.

National Reading Month

As the main government institution in the library and information field in Sri Lanka, National Library and Documentation Services Board (NLDSB) has to play a key role in reading promotion in Sri Lanka.

As a solution to the problem of backwardness in reading, NLDSB launched the National Reading Month programme in 2004. On the recommendation of the National Library and Documentation Services Board, the government declared the month of October as the National Reading Month since 2004. The first national ceremony of the National Reading Month 2004 was held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute auditorium. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the Prime Minister in 2004 and he was the chief guest at the first national ceremony of National Reading Month.

During October every year, National Library and Documentation Services Board implements various reading promotion programmes to mark National Reading Month. Seminars workshops, lectures, book exhibitions, essay competitions, poster competitions, book donations, media publicity programmes are the main programmes conducted. At the request of the National Library and Documentation Services Board most other libraries in the country participate in the National Reading Month programme by implementing various reading promotion programmes.

In addition to the libraries other institutions like cultural centres, technical colleges, teacher training colleges, colleges of education etc. also provide their co-operation in this task.

Following activities are carried out by the National Library and Documentation Services Board to mark the National Reading Month 2012:

* Informing public, school and cultural centre libraries to implement reading promotion programmes to mark the National Reading Month.

* Awarding certificates to libraries which implement reading promotion programmes in 2011.

* Conducting national level seminars on reading and literacy.
* Organizing national library study tours for schoolchildren.
* Book donations to school libraries in underprivileged areas.
* Publicity activities in National Reading Month.

The national ceremony of National Reading Month will be held on October 31, 2012 with the participation of librarians, publishers, writers etc.

Through these activities National Library and Documentation Services Board attempts to reawaken the Sri Lankan community to reading. A great reawakening among the Sri Lanka people could be seen during the last few years due to the National Reading Month.

Other measures

In addition to the above activities, National Library and Documentation Services Board has taken step to give free membership of the National Library to the Sri Lankan readers during October 2012 (National Reading Month). Through giving free membership, National Library and Documentation Services Board hopes to encourage library usage and reading of the people.

Free membership is given for a period of one year. Giving free membership during the reading month was introduced few years ago. As a result of this programme a large number of readers have obtained membership of the National Library during the last few years. Specially a large number of students have taken advantage of this facility.

Creating a reading society in Sri Lanka is the aim of National Reading Month. In addition to the National Reading Month, some other measures are also needed for this purpose. The assistance of the government is also needed in this task. Distribution of books to remote areas is not adequate. Majority of books produced in the country are circulated within urban areas. Therefore, a mechanism should be created to increase the distribution of books in the country. National Library and Documentation Services Board implements a project for the free distribution of books to libraries in the country.

A large number of books have been distributed free of charge to libraries for the last few decades.

Starting bookshops in remote areas is another way of facilitating the people to purchase books. Government can take steps in this task through a relevant ministry. A main obstacle to reading promotion in remote rural areas is absence of places for purchasing books. Including reading promotion activities in school curriculum is another way of promoting the reading habit among the schoolchildren. This provides a stable foundation for the younger generation for reading.

In addition to above measures, action should be taken to prepare a national book policy to regularize book production, distribution and reading.

During a period in which peoples reading habit is declining, it is the responsibility of all relevant parties to take necessary measures to improve the reading of the people. The expected development goals cannot be achieved successfully without improving the knowledge of the people. According to modern definition, development is not only economic and physical growth; it includes socio-cultural and educational improvement as well. Therefore, reading promotion can be utilized as an important tool to achieve the educational development of the people.

The writer is a Director, National Library and Documentation Services Board

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