Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Prague : the city of reading

Attendee's of InSPIRing Conversations conference, Prague.

I had the pleasure and good fortune to visit Prague in The Czech Republic to facilitate the School Librarian Connection InSPIRing Conversations mini conference in September.

Prague / Praha is a most beautiful city which was mostly spared from the ravages of war through various invasions and overthrowings, world war one and two and the communist regime. After a period of neglect through the communist time due to lack of money and priority, the baroque buildings have been restored to their glory days, and to walk around the city is an exercise in time travel with each street in the city revealing something breathtaking around each corner. History of The Czech Republic.

Random street / river scenes of Prague. Photo by Dianne McKenzie

What I noticed about Prague was that the Czech culture was still evident through the people and the city, even after all of the turmoil of the 20th Century. The culture of reading that permeates the city and the whole country impressed me the most. It is apparently the country with the densest library network in the world, along with having some of the most beautiful libraries within its borders. The New York times has even written an article about this phenomena. "Why libraries are everywhere in the Czech republic" explaining that in 1919 a law was passed where every town had to have a library to boost literacy and the Czech language after the German occupation.

The book tower in Prague Public Library entrance. (Photo by Dianne McKenzie)
We had the opportunity to visit the Klementium Library Hall  along with the astronomical tower and just be present in history for a little while. The entire library is being digitised as part of the Manuscriptorium digitising project so that everyone has access to these historic works.

Klementinium Library Hall. Photo by Dianne McKenzie

Apart from the historic aspect of the city, there were multitudes of bookstores all over the city catering for the new book lover and second hand treasure seeker. 

Shakespeare bookshop. Old Town Prague. (Photo by Dianne McKenzie)

I also saw many people reading physical books on public transport, and, as well as having advertisements for food, clothing, events in the subway along the escalators, there were promotional posters for books.

Book advertisments in the subway. (Photo by Dianne McKenzie)

Some data and statistics on the Czech reading habits can be found in this article "Czech's cling to literary traditions in spite of new technologies.IndexMundi reports that the Czech republic has a 99% literacy rate for both males and females over the age of 15. 

I wonder if there has been a study conducted on the Czech population to see if they have all the qualities as a population that voracious readers are supposed to develop individually as readers? These qualities would include empathy, reflective thinking, knowledgable, internationally minded, culturally aware, reduced stress levels, critical & creative thinkers, large vocabulary, better memories and better writers among other things. They have certainly produced a number of accomplished composers, architects, musicians, artists and writers for such a small country. This could be a good study for someone.  

It seems that it is the adults that are benefitting from the strong history of reading with the contemporary children falling behind as found in the study " The Reading Matters: Children Readership in the Czech Republic." The abstract states "There is something unusual going on with reading and literacy among the Czech children. International assessment of reading literacy shows that the results of Czech children are poor as compared with other countries."  Could this be a result of the laws changing where it is no longer required to have a library in every town or is it a result of newer technologies taking the place of reading?
Is this a modern trend throughout the world even when a culture has developed a strong reading culture? 

If such a strong reading nation as the Czech Republic is seeing a decline in reading in its young people this is even the more reason to keep up the good fight.  We have an important job to do to promote reading.

Dianne & Marion overlooking Prague from the Observatory tower

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