Nations of Readers
by Farrukh Dall Advocate
Chairman, Read Pakistan
Reading habit is a powerful tool for inclusive growth of a society. Reading has a direct impact on human development, on every part of the lives of citizens and has considerable consequences. It not only enhances the quality of life but also strengthens the democratization in a country as it empowers the critical thinking skills of individuals and leads to greater understanding of others. There is also a connection between human health, economic well-being and the reading habit. Therefore, according to the National Reading Campaign Canada, “It is important for society to have a large portion of the population engaged as readers so they can exercise power over their lives and understand how to make effective changes”.
In my article, Happiness and the Happiest, I have established a link between collective happiness and the reading habit by providing some evidence from some happiest nations in the world including Iceland. Today, we have well documented evidence which provide link between national success and the reading habit. Most successful nations are, in fact, the nations of readers. Their individuals have developed and maintained the respect for books. According to a study conducted by Bifröst University in 2013, 50% of Icelanders read at least 8 books per year, while an impressive 93% of them read at least one. 555 monthly salaries are paid every year to authors of fiction/children’s literature from the government through the Icelandic Artists’ Salaries.
Uniformly, the Finns are avid readers and library users: in 2014 the total annual book lending was almost 91 million items, the annual number of library visits was 50 million and the internet services of the libraries were used 40 million times. In Finland, there is a public library in every municipality (291). Czech Republic has the densest library network in the world. According to a survey conducted for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there is one library for every 1,971 Czech citizens. The U.S has more public libraries than ever. Although the rise of e-reading in the U.S has been documented and technology has changed everything in Americans life, says Pew, except their love of books. 88% of those who read e-books in the year 2011 also read printed books. In another survey, Pew Research found that some 78% of Americans ages 16 and above read an average 17 books in the year 2011 and those who read e-books read an average of 24 books in the past 12 months.
Although, China is a society of the longest literary traditions, according to a survey by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, people 18 and 70 years old read an average of 6.7 books in the year 2012. More than three decades into China’s economic reform period, the Chinese market is awash in books: The country now boasts the world’s largest publishing industry by volume, with 8.1 billion books printed in 2012, up from 7.7 billion the year before. At every other street corner, vendors stand by carts of copies of new releases.
Canadians spent $21.3 billion on cultural goods and services in 2001, an amount that is greater than spending on tobacco, alcohol and games of chances combined. A snapshot of library use in Canada for the last available reporting year of 2010, provided by Alvin M. Scrader and Michael R. Brundin, National Statistic and Values Profile of Canadian Libraries, reveals the following patters of usage:
- 360 million visits were made in person to libraries across Canada;
- 590 million publications were borrowed;
- 61% of all Canadians have a public library membership.”
Israel, the second most educated country in the world, has also maintained their reading habit and respect for books in the modern world of information.
Reading increases empathy, enhances relationships, reduces stress, deepens our understanding about others and cultivates civic participation. The amount of knowledge attained through books gives people more insight to achieve their goals by providing deeper understanding of the things around them. It gives readers new ideas, new programs and new information to improve their lives. That makes a successful nation. Readers are proved to be better citizens. A study, Hill Strategies, “Social Effects of Culture: Exploratory Statistical Evidence and Detailed Statistical Models” conducted in Canada reveals;
- the percentage of book readers volunteering for a non-profit organization (42%)
is much higher than the percentage of non-readers (25%)
- the percentage of book readers donating money or goods to a non-profit organization
(82%) is much higher than the percentage of non-readers (66%).
- 71% of book readers (compared with 65% of non-readers) indicated that they had
done a favor for a neighbor in the past month.
- 49% of book readers have a very strong sense of belonging to Canada, compared with 42% of non-readers.”
Ironically, reading culture has begun fading in our country which could result into loss of creativity and this loss has already been felt in in our culture, policies, governance and politics. In the age of information where individual success and professional growth as well as national development requires acquaintance with esoteric information, the decline in reading culture is a worrying spectacle.