Book Fairs and Book Development councils
Zimbabwe is home to Southern Africa’s most popular international Book Fair which is held every year during the first week of August in Harare Gaderns.This crucial event draws participants from all over the world including the Southern, and eastern African region. The Book Fair rotates between the major cities of the country namely Harare and Bulawayo.These events draw a sizeable crowd of readers and bibliophiles. The Zimbabwe International Book Fair provides a platform for librarians, writers, illustrators, publishers, book sellers, readers and other stakeholders to interact freely and share ideas on books and reading. This event has however been affected by the hyper-inflationary environment that characterized Zimbabwe’s economy for the past years , even though the coming of the inclusive government and use of multicurrency has helped to restore normalcy and provide a solid basis for the retake of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.
The Zimbabwe Book Development Council headed by Mrs. Miriam Bamhare has done quite well in promoting book development as well as literacy and reading. It helped in supporting collection development in schools and local publishing through its donor funded programme to support school libraries with book vouchers to purchase locally published books. However the Book Council has since folded dealing a seriously blow on book development. There is an urgent need to resuscitate the moribund Zimbabwe Book Development Council because reading and literacy is to Zimbabwe what blood is to the human body. The ZBDC helped to harmonise book production and consumption through engaging all stakeholders on the way forward in ensuring that Zimbabwe develops into a nation of readers. Libraries were drawn in to these discussions because it was felt that through libraries a sustainable reading culture would be maintained. The ZBDC Also engaged government and lobbied for schools to ensure that they would employ librarians, however all these efforts were affected by the economic problems.
Usherwood and Toyne noted that through reading fiction the reader finds an avenue to escape from the dullness of everyday life to the excitements of other worlds and the joy of aesthetics well as relaxation and improved literary competency.9 The two writers also note that literature has immense potential as source of self development that enables one to learn more about one’s own beliefs and values as well as other people’s values and beliefs. 10The Greek Philosopher Aristotle viewed literature as having a therapeutic effect in that through catharsis the reader is purged off all stress and emotions and left more inspired in life and libraries were viewed as those indispensable institutions that housed “…medicine for the soul…”1lHuman beings are distinguished from other animals because of their ability to engage in creative activities like reading and analyzing texts.
Lewis Smith a columnist for the International Express quotes education experts who advocates that children should be encouraged to read material that is inspiring and stimulating and this can range from trash novels and autobiographies of popular personalities 11 Rodda notes that there is need for teachers to be innovative in prescribing reading materials for children. It is imperative that that the concept of reading should be inculcated in the minds of children at a younger and tender phase of their physical and psychological development .This is why experts on reading recommend that the prescription of reading action- packed novels which will help readers to move on to other literature, including ones they might currently ignore, such as poetry.
The argument is that heroic or heroine people make interesting reading for children and that this could be used as a starting point to the full metal development of any child. It has been noted that engaging with young people required radical innovation, because they require something new and something stimulating and eventually they will internalize the reading culture.Carlsen a professor of English Education at the University of Iowa noted that individual readers progressed from sentimental romances, cheap adventure stories through popular contemporary works to books that are acknowledged as great and noble. 13The late Tanzanian President noted that any book is better than having no book at all because gradually a reader graduates from trash to serious literature through time
Generally Zimbabweans are literate people who value reading and libraries. It is imperative that libraries, book councils publishers, academicians and local authorities and writers should work together to encourage reading for leisure and relaxation apart from reading for utilitarian reasons. Despite the economic hardships Zimbabweans continue to invest in education and maintaining a high level of literacy in all respects. However there is need for a fundamental rethink on the part of librarians with regards to increasing library patronage across all ages. There is also a strong need for publishers and writers to consider taking a pro- active part in local content development in the creative arts so that people can access material in various media formats and convenient languages. The future for reading and literacy is quite brighter considering the value that the nation places in reading as a purposeful activity.