As Turkey marks the 49th Library Week across the country this week, some librarians have stated that the poor reading habits in Turkey are due to the exam-based education system in which the cognitive and intellectual development of children is being neglected.
Each year during Library Week the poor reading habits in Turkey come to public attention, and possible reasons and solutions are discussed by educators and librarians.
According to a study released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in January 2013, a smaller number of Turks read books regularly than people in European countries. The study states that in European countries 21 people out of 100 read books regularly, while in Turkey that same statistic is one person out of 10,000. Turkey ranks 86th in the world for the amount of time a country’s residents read, the study revealed. According to the study, Turks watch an average of six hours of TV a day and surf the Internet three hours a day but only dedicate six hours a year to reading a book. The UNESCO report also reveals that reading books is in 235th place on a list of things most valued in life by Turks.
Attributing the poor reading habits in Turkey to its education system, Turkish Librarians’ Association (TKD) Chairman Ali Fuat Kartal said during an interview with Sunday’s Zaman that Turkey has an exam-based system in which the students mainly only focus on preparing for the exams, adding that the students’ cognitive and intellectual development is neglected. “Another factor is that teachers at Turkish schools don’t read much. It is important for students to see their teachers reading, which might direct them to reading books. In recent years, the number of publications for children has been increasing in Turkey. Children have more opportunities nowadays. Teachers and parents should take children to libraries much more frequently. Children should be encouraged to visit libraries as the habit of reading is mostly gained during early ages. In Europe, children are encouraged to visit libraries and borrow books from there from nursery school age,” Kartal noted.
‘Insufficient number of libraries’
Stating that the number of libraries is limited in Turkey, where the population is over 75 million, Kartal added that there are only 1,112 public libraries in the country, further stating: “The conditions of libraries are not very good as the books and other materials in the public libraries are not regularly updated. They are filled with outdated books. Libraries should be updated with newly published books at regular intervals to keep the interest of readers or visitors alive.”
Kartal also claimed that libraries are misused in Turkey, adding that public libraries are always full of students with test books or exam-preparing books who use the libraries to study in silence. “The people who want to search for books and read the books in the libraries cannot find a place to sit. Reading halls or some other type of facility should be established by the municipalities or other local authorities and libraries should be turned into research centers. Libraries should be left to people who want to research and benefit from the books put on the shelves of libraries.”
Recalling a major four-year campaign launched under the leadership of President Abdullah Gül in 2008 to encourage reading and writing across Turkey, Kartal stated that governmental and nongovernmental organizations should conduct many more projects and launch more campaigns to promote reading in Turkey.
A four-year campaign titled “Turkey is Reading” was launched in January 2008 by the Presidency with cooperation from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The campaign had three goals: to increase literacy rates among children and adults, to promote reading as a regular habit and to increase the number of people with basic computer knowledge. Within the campaign, reading hours were organized in schools, new libraries were established and existing ones were upgraded. Furthermore, reading corners were set up in social spaces like coffee shops and hospitals. Some of Turkey’s traditional coffeehouses were transformed to prompt citizens to read more books. The campaign ended in March.
At odds with the first interviewee and the UNESCO report, Turkish Publishers’ Association President Metin Celal told Sunday’s Zaman that Turkey’s reading habits are not so much low as exaggerated. Pointing to a study conducted by the Culture and Tourism Ministry in 2011, Celal stated: “According to the study, 7.2 books are read per person a year on average in Turkey, which is not that low compared to some other countries in the world. Turkey has higher rates than most of the countries in the world. Despite this, Turkey’s reading habit rates are not yet sufficient.”
According to a Culture and Tourism Ministry study titled “Turkey Reading Culture Map Project,” conducted by the Culture and Tourism Ministry in 2011 with the participation of 6,212 persons from 26 provinces, 7.2 books are read a year on average in Turkey. The study also revealed that 45.3 percent of books are selected randomly and read irregularly in Turkey, 61.5 of the readers read books recommended by other people, 84.2 of Turkish readers don’t follow a particular author, 43.5 percent of people in Turkey say they are not used to going to a library, 16.2 say they don’t like reading and 12.1 of them say they get their information via the Internet.
‘Measures need to be taken by government’
Stating that the government has been conducting some projects to encourage reading in the recent years, Celal said these moves are not sufficient, adding that the government needs to take further measures to promote reading in the country. Celal stated: “Books should be introduced as a friend to the public. Measures that will facilitate readers’ access to books should be taken by the government. New bookstores should be opened and the book fairs should be supported. The Turkish publishing industry should be placed among state-supported and promoted industries. Taxes for publishers should be reduced. The goal of Turkey for now should be 12 books for each person in a year.”
About the situation of Turkish libraries, Celal further stated that the books in libraries should be updated and diversified to attract the interest of readers. Stating that the number of existing libraries is not sufficient, Celal added that municipalities or other local authorities should be obligated to open a library in their area, adding that a certain budget should be provided each year to libraries for updating their books regularly.