23 April is a symbolic date in world literature. It is the date on which several prominent authors, William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. This date 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 to access books.
By championing books and copyright, UNESCO stands up for creativity, diversity and equal access to knowledge, with the work across the board – from the Creative Cities of Literature network to promoting literacy and mobile learning and advancing Open Access to scientific knowledge and educational resources. With the active involvement of all stakeholders: authors, publishers, teachers, librarians, public and private institutions, humanitarian NGOs and the mass media, and all those who feel motivated to work together in this world celebration of books and authors, World Book and Copyright Day has become a platform to rally together millions of people all around the world.
Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay released a message on this occasion.
The message reads: “In these uncertain times, many are turning to books to help them deal with lockdown and anxiety.
Indeed, books have the unique ability both to entertain and to teach. They are at once a means of exploring realms beyond our personal experience through exposure to different authors, universes and cultures, and a means of accessing the deepest recesses of our inner selves. Page by page, books light the path for us to roam unbound by time or by borders; in other words, they give us freedom.
It is the magic of books that we need now, at a time when we are all reminded of the cardinal importance of literature – and indeed, of all the arts – in our lives.
In celebrating books, we are also celebrating their authors, who provide us with snippets of life and with insight into different realities. They give us a window onto the world, a view of existence. It is for this reason that this celebration takes place on 23 April, the day on which died William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, writers whose works have been captivating our imagination for four centuries.
We are also paying homage to all the professions associated with books: editing, publishing and translation. These fields make it possible to disseminate our literary heritage, allow new creations to find a place for their expression, and enable the spread of ideas.
These professions must be protected and their value acknowledged. This is all the truer in the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which poses a profound and lasting threat to the system of connection that is culture.
This is why UNESCO supports the work of publishers through undertakings such as its partnerships with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and the International Publishers Association (IPA).
The power of reading must be fully harnessed. We must ensure access to books so that everyone can take refuge in reading and find in it a source of dreams, knowledge and reflection. This is the significance of the commitment made by Kuala Lumpur, which on 23 April becomes the World Book Capital of 2020. UNESCO so designated the city because of its determination to promote literacy and foster the development of an inclusive book culture.
At a time when reading is utterly invaluable, the vital importance of our common commitment to integration in and through reading becomes crystal clear.
For this year's edition of World Book and Copyright Day, I thus encourage each and every one of you to pick up a book, start turning its pages, and draw from it the breath of fresh air which will help to sustain you now and in future.”
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