"23 April: a symbolic date for world literature for on this date and in the same year of 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors such as Maurice Druon, K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo. It was a natural choice for UNESCO's General Conference to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.
"The idea for this celebration originated in Catalonia where on 23 April, Saint George's Day, a rose is traditionally given as a gift for each book sold. The success of the World Book and Copyright Day will depend primarily on the support received from all parties concerned (authors, publishers, teachers, librarians, public and private institutions, humanitarian NGOs and the mass media), who have been mobilized in each country by UNESCO National Commissions, UNESCO Clubs, Centres and Associations, Associated Schools and Libraries, and by all those who feel motivated to work together in this world celebration of books and authors."
The following is a message from Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of World Book Day:
1996, the World Book and Copyright Day, celebrated on 23 April, has
been a unique opportunity for us to reflect together on new issues
relating to the book, viewed concomitantly as an industry, an art, and
an essential tool in ensuring quality education for all.
The Day may be placed within the context of the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012), the theme of which is "Literacy as Freedom", thus calling to mind the emancipatory effect of books. Such linkages are of the essence, especially if the book is to be a major medium for teaching men and women, as well as the most marginalized social groups, to read and write at a time when one adult in five worldwide can do neither.
The book, an instrument of knowledge and a means of sharing, must further each person's education, fulfilment and empowerment. It thus contributes to enjoyment of the universal right to education and to effective participation by each individual in social, political and cultural life.
Furthermore, having only recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we must stress that books are of no avail if we do not guarantee their free circulation. Concern over the "free flow of ideas by word and image", enshrined in UNESCO's Constitution, must be kept alive so that we can continue to promote universal access to books. As you can see, it is both our understanding of genuine quality education for all, and respect for the universality of human rights and fundamental freedom for all; that are at stake in issues relating to the book and its circulation.
On the occasion of the 14th World Book and Copyright Day, I therefore solemnly call on all countries and on UNESCO's partners and friends to join us in common reflection on the place of the book in our educational and cultural policies and on its contribution to the emergence of creative diversity that is deemed more useful than ever.
In addition to World Book Day celebrations and initiatives, what better day to announce the availability of the World Digital Library. "The World Digital Library makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world. The principal objectives of the WDL are to:
- Promote international and intercultural understanding;
- Expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet;
- Provide resources for educators, scholars and general audiences;
- Build capacity in partner institutions to narrow the digital divide within and between countries."
Content selection in the library is not yet great, though significant even now, it will grow with time and cooperation between participating libraries and institutions. James Billington, US Librarian of Congress, has created this YouTube video to explain US involvement in the WDL.
As Shakespeare's original editors famously said in another context, ""Reade...therefore; and againe, and againe." What better day than World Book Day to reaffirm our commitment to world peace through world literacy.