On this World Book Day, we give the floor to booksellers
Every year, 23 April marks the World Book and Copyright Day. Launched in 1995 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the event aims to promote the enjoyment of books and reading. As representatives of thousands of booksellers, we do know the important role books play in our lives, especially now that we are facing another year of pandemic.
During the last year, when most countries have experienced periods of confinement and people have had to limit their time spent outside, books have proven to be powerful tools to combat isolation, reinforce ties between people, and expand our horizons, while stimulating our minds and creativity.
As an integral part of the book chain, bookshops are ideally positioned to provide access to literature and culture for all, thus improving reading habits across societies. This is now more important than ever.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many different policy responses, with many countries imposing movement restrictions, and even full lockdowns, leaving businesses that rely on physical presence of customers in a precarious position. Booksellers, as many of their retail counterparts, were forced to close their doors for many weeks – resulting in drastically reduced sale numbers.
To ensure they can survive this drastic and unexpected change in their daily activities, booksellers had to shift their business model and encourage their customers to buy books online – with substantial impact. Many booksellers came up with innovative actions to support local communities during these difficult times, from launching curb-side pickup or starting city-wide deliveries to hosting digital author events, book clubs and children reading hours.
Once allowed to re-open shops, and despite the numerous strict government regulations they had to comply with, many booksellers were happy to be able to welcome customers again inside their stores. The rush that followed the re-openings highlighted once more the essential character of bookshops and how they best fulfil this role while staying open.
With a few countries recognising bookshops as essential through the adoption of new decrees, the situation marginally improved during the last months. However, if this newly gained status represented a victory for a few, it still remains the fight of many.
On this special day celebrating books and reading, EIBF calls on national governments to consider and recognise the essential role bookshops play in their communities when discussing the matter of their opening/closure.
"Bookshops are safe havens"
We asked our members to reflect on the importance of reading and books in our daily lives.
Sheila O'Reilly, Bookselling Ireland Liaison at the Booksellers Association of the UK and Ireland
“Some people say every person has 24 hours every day. Readers know that is not entirely true. Have you not read a book that has left you with the impression of having been absent (in it) for years? Books create time and hand it over to you.” Philippe Hunziker, bookseller and owner of Sophos bookshop in Guatemala
“The beautiful thing with stories and books is that once they are written, published and dispatched they attract people around them and some of them won’t let you out of their pages, maybe for days after you finished reading them. Some you will find by chance, some are recommended by your friends, some by your bookseller, but still, you will find them. These days, some of us will be reading their to-read piles from home, some of us will be re-reading books we loved, and others will not be able to read and to focus. In this uncertain time we’re living in, each one of us reacts in the way we can and know, the only important thing is to stay home, read if you can focus, listen to those in more informed positions and have patience with yourself and those around you. Your booksellers are missing you, and all we can do is wait for you to come back to as soon as this is over. Until then, stay safe and read at home.” Oana Dobosi and Raluca Selejan, booksellers and co-owners of the Two Owls bookshop in Romania
“Reading allows you to go through time and space, to connect with other people and your inner self, to comprehend the world around you, and to find ideas, beauty, amusement. All that is possible just staying at home, with a good book. Reading can save us, now more than ever.” Hoepli bookshop, Italy
“Bookshops are lanterns of civilisation and, for many, beacons of hope.” Meryl Halls, Managing Director of the Booksellers Association of the UK and Ireland