23 April 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. In this regard, UNESCO created the World Book and Copyright Day.
23 April was first proclaimed as World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO in 1995. 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 organizations, schools, public bodies, professional groups and private businesses. In this lengthy period, World Book and Copyright 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.
Since 2000, World Book and Copyright Day has inspired another initiative of professional organizations which receives the assistance of UNESCO and backing from States: World Book Capital City. Each year a city is chosen which undertakes to maintain, through its own initiatives, the impetus of the Day’s celebrations until 23 April of the following year. Almost all the regions of the world, in turn, have already been involved in this process, which thus transforms the celebration of books and copyright into a recurrent activity, extending still further the geographical and cultural influence of books.
Over recent years, the World Day has shown that it can be a potent symbol for the launch of major support operations, in particular in Latin America and Africa.
World Book and Copyright Day 2015
World Book and Copyright Day is an opportunity to recognise the power of books to change our lives for the better and to support books and those who produce them.
As global symbols of social progress, books – learning and reading — have become targets for those who denigrate culture and education, who reject dialogue and tolerance. In recent months, we have seen attacks on children at school and the public burning of books. In this context, our duty is clear – we must redouble efforts to promote the book, the pen, the computer, along with all forms of reading and writing, in order to fight illiteracy and poverty, to build sustainable societies, to strengthen the foundations of peace.
UNESCO is leading the fight against illiteracy, to be included as a crucial ingredient of the Sustainable Development Goals to follow 2015. Literacy is the door to knowledge, essential to individual self-esteem and empowerment. Books, in all forms, play an essential role here. With 175 million adolescents in the world -– mostly girls and young women — unable to read a single sentence, UNESCO is committed to harnessing information and communication technologies, especially mobile technology, to support literacy and to reach the unreached with quality learning.
Books are invaluable platforms for freedom of expression and the free flow of information – these are essential for all societies today. The future of the book as a cultural object is inseparable from the role of culture in promoting more inclusive and sustainable pathways to development. Through its Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, UNESCO is seeking to promote reading among young people and marginalised groups. We are working with the International Publishers Association, the International Booksellers’ Federation and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions to support careers in publishing, bookshops, libraries and schools.
This is the spirit guiding Incheon, Republic of Korea, which has been designated World Book Capital 2015, in recognition of its programme to promote reading among people and underprivileged sections of the population. This designation takes effect on World Book and Copyright Day and will be celebrated with participants from the previous title-holder, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
With Incheon and the entire international community, let us join together to celebrate books as the embodiment of creativity, the desire to share ideas and knowledge, to inspire understanding, dialogue and tolerance. This is UNESCO’s message on World Book and Copyright Day.
Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of the World Book and Copyright Day