Policy framework to promote book culture

Pupils of Mirembe Junior School, Kampala take part in Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) Day. PHOTO | ISAAC SSEJJOMBWE

What you need to know:

  • On April 23, Uganda joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World Book and Copyright Day (WBCD) 2022 under the theme "You are a reader".

To ensure that the book and reading culture in Uganda are promoted and enhanced, the government through National Library of Uganda (NLU), local government at various levels, communities and all publishing stakeholders, a number of interventions have been put in place.  

Adonia Katungisa, the director NLU, says despite the existence of a number of regulatory frameworks on libraries, there has continued to be a vacuum for a comprehensive legal framework on libraries within which stakeholders involved in the book and publishing chain can operate. 

He adds the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development through the NLU is in advanced stages of formulating a Uganda national policy for libraries that will provide  comprehensive policy framework for library development and services in Uganda.  A regulatory impact assessment  on libraries has been completed and the draft policy is ready for submission to the various approval levels. 

Katungisa says to ensure that reading spaces and materials are made accessible to every Ugandan, establishing libraries for the public  is key(49 public libraries and 150 community libraries have so far been established).

 “The  low rate at which public libraries have been established  means local government ought  to provide  funding within their budget estimates to facilitate effective establishment, running and providing library services to their communities,” Katungisa says.

NLU, he says, has organised community outreaches and reading promotion activities such as children reading tents, reading and spelling competitions,  and reading to children in communities. They have held digital literacy training and outreaches in communities in 25 libraries across the country.

Book and copyright day

On April 23, Uganda joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World Book and Copyright Day (WBCD) 2022 under the theme "You are a reader".

Declared by the UNESCO General Assembly in 1995, the day is a celebration to promote the enjoyment of books and reading. Each year, celebrations take place  worldwide to recognise the scope of books - a link between the past and the future, a bridge between generations and across cultures. 

On this occasion, UNESCO and the international organisations representing the three major sectors of the book industry - publishers, booksellers and libraries, select the world book capital for a year to maintain, through its initiatives, and the impetus of the day’s celebrations. 

This year’s capital is,  Guadalajara in Mexico, with a year-long programme that focuses on the role of books and reading in triggering social change, combating violence, and building a culture of peace. 

The activities to celebrate the Day were held at the Main Library in Kampala that ran from April 19 to 23 included an exhibition, public discussions, children reading tent, author readings, book sales, book donations and giveaways, living library sessions, and the Annual Author and Library Award. 

Purpose of reading

Speaking at the official opening of the activities, Katungisa, said, Uganda adopted a national theme Readership Promotion.

“We believe that by promoting reading in the country, we shall ultimately have all Ugandans become good readers which will better their wellbeing,” Katungisa said, continuing: “This year’s WBCD theme is aimed at creating readers for the future by encouraging children and every one to love books and reading. It’s about encouraging them to visit bookshops, libraries, and all those involved in the book chain and encourage them to make their own choices about the kinds of publications, they would want to read,” Katungisa says.

“This way, their reading abilities will tremendously grow resulting in high demand for reading materials. This high demand will lead to home grown book and publishing industries and markets,” Katungisa added. 

On WBCD, UNESCO called on its partners to share the message that books are a force to address contemporary challenges, to understand political   and   economic   realities, and to combat inequalities and misinformation. 

“Books have long embodied the human capacity to conjure up real and imagined worlds, giving voice to the diversity of human experience. They help us share ideas, obtain information, and inspire admiration for different cultures, enabling far-reaching forms of dialogue between people across space and time,” UNESCO says.

In her message on WBCD 2022, the director-general of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said: “Indeed, books are vital vehicles to access, transmit and promote education, science, culture and information worldwide.”

Uganda’s documented heritage

NLU has embarked on the standardisation of Uganda’s documented heritage through assignment of International Standard Numbers (ISBN) and International Standard Serial Numbers (ISSN). During the FY 2020/ 2021, 702 ISBNs were issued. These numbers serve as unique identifiers to Uganda’s published books and also help in marketing the publications internationally.

Katungisa says NLU is enforcing the Legal Deposit law of 1969, as a way of ensuring that Uganda’s documented heritage is centrally collected, preserved and availed to Ugandans. For FY 2020/2021, a total of  7,130 publications (1,484 books based on legal deposits database, 48 magazines and 4,532 newspapers.

Under NLU’s inspiring reader in schools programme 30,217 children’s books were distributed,  pupils, teachers and communities trained in reading in 85 schools (25 in Mubende, 25 in Soroti, 25 in Lira and 20 in Nyarushanje- Rukungiri). 

Essence of Ugandan stories

The executive director of Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO), Charles Batambuze, the guest of honour, said: “We’re celebrating this day, with Ugandans having written and published 1,683 new titles. This is a huge milestone that is resolving the longest challenge of a lack of homegrown stories to support our reading culture.  In my childhood, my book menu was made up of Ladybird books which perhaps explain why I am more predisposed to love what is foreign.” 

“I am glad that as I toured the exhibition, I witnessed  the growth in children’s books.  I thank the writers who are helping to show our young people that our cultures matter. This is the best foundation for mindset change and mobilising our citizens to love and develop their country,” Batambuze, who is also the vice chairman of the National Culture Forum (NCF), added.

In his engagements with actors in the book value chain, he discovered that ‘money’ is a major issue for the sector.  He realised  the  need for a regular book budget to buy local publications to stock the public library system. “For example, a grant of Shs500m every year would turn around the publishing of non-curriculum books by leaps and bounds,” Batambuze said.

“We are lobbying government to impose a Private Copy Levy on gadgets which are used in the theft of copyright. We expect to raise significant amounts of royalties to benefit the creative sector.”