Friday, September 9th marked the 50th anniversary of “International Literacy Day”, a day founded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). While it is intended as a day to promote literacy and empower individuals, communities, and societies through education, it has quickly become an important day for publishers, and emphasizing how they can make a difference.
This year’s celebration of International Literacy Day was called “Reading the Past, Writing the future”. UNESCO has included celebrations for this day as part of their initiative to promote worldwide education and change. Activities for this year included a two-day conference in Paris that focused on innovation, as well as many smaller conferences around the world.
This choice of theme put an emphasis on the ability of books and reading to not only inform people, but also to allow them to create and initiate changes in their communities. Literacy allows new and different material to reach individuals. This material can generate new ideas, change worldviews and promote innovation – an ability of published works that publishers are already familiar with.
As an industry, publishers are constantly thinking about the impact of their product – will this title sell? Will it be well received by critics? There are even algorithms in the works to determine which books will be bestsellers. But an important – and maybe overlooked–aspect of books and published works is not just “Will people read it?” but “Will it make people want to read?”. Literacy is fundamental to learning and increasing access to educational material falls in the hands of publishers. It is important that publishers take an active role in helping to disseminate information and ultimately change and empower the international community. But it is also important the publishers make active decisions to publish and promote materials that can aid in the learning process. Going forward, publishers ought to consider not just what people will read, but what will make people want to read more.