Tunisia's ranks of readers thinning, survey finds
By Mona Yahia for Magharebia in Tunis – 05/02/10
Tunisians' interest in the printed page is flagging, and the government is mulling ways to spur more reading, the Ministry of Culture announced on January 28th.
The initial results of a recent ministry survey of 1,029 Tunisians revealed that 75% do not set foot in public libraries, and 22.74% have never read a single book. The reasons given for this low reading rate were varied, but 18% said they just don't like to read.
The results of the survey, which were unveiled by ministry official Reda Najjar in Sfax, have prompted the government to plan new pro-reading measures. Based on further consultations, the ministry will create a strategy for book production and distribution, co-ordinate with libraries and develop an overall reading action plan.
"I think this has to do with the image and status of books in general within Tunisian society," writer and publisher Walid Sliman told Magharebia on Wednesday (February 3rd). "Books need institutional promotion because they are held in low esteem in Tunisian society."
"In addition, there's the problem of intruders in the publishing world who market books that don't meet publishing specs, in terms of image and content," he added. "A good number of the books on the market don't meet those specs, which further alienates Tunisians."
The survey, which was conducted through cell phone voting, a field study, and nation-wide surveys, asked 1,029 respondents to disclose their reading tastes and their general relationship with books.
Not surprisingly, Tunisian publishing houses and bookstores are suffering from slim sales. Despite repeated attempts to attract Tunisians to books, such as holding exhibitions in cinemas and public transportation stations, Tunisian families allocate less than 30 dinars a year for books.
Ordinary Tunisians gave Magharebia varied reasons for their reading habits.
"The first culprit is education in Tunisia. We were never encouraged to read," said Noura Khalil, an artist. "Even the books selected for students to read were incredibly dull. In addition, unlike the attractively designed, high-quality foreign books, ours seem cheap and of poor quality."
The survey also examined the places where Tunisians prefer to read. As it turns out, only 13.15% head for public libraries, while 48.71% see libraries merely as places to do schoolwork.
In many cases, the reading drought is not for lack of opportunities. Tunisia has 378 public libraries, in addition to 30 roaming libraries.
The crisis of reading is not unique to Tunisia; other Maghreb countries are grappling with it as well. In that light, Moroccan writers recently gathered to discuss restoring readers' love of books.
Moroccan author Hassan Ouezzani painted a bleak picture of the state of reading in the country. Citing Ministry of Culture research from 2001, he said that Moroccans read only 2.5 books per year, while 1 in 10 do not read books at all.
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