Maria Deskur: Reading downstairs. We read less and less and we already see problems

Readership in Poland, after a few years of slight increases, fell again – by 4 percentage points compared to the previous year. Only 38 percent. adult Poles have read at least one book in 2021. So we are in the absolute tail of yet civilized countries, lips are full of obscene terms, but still no one is ringing the alarm bell. The Titanic orchestra also played the waltz until the end.

The fatal future not only of books

I have been observing the level of readership for a long time. For several years, I have been analyzing in depth the research around this problem and I am trying to say, on the basis of this research, why, without reacting with categorical and large-scale actions, we are preparing a disastrous future for Poland.

There is clear research showing the positive impact of reading with a child on their social and emotional development

Looking superficially at the development of the Universal Reading Foundation, of which I am the volunteer president, you might think that we are succeeding: PFC carries out campaigns, helps us many people from culture and business, we have managed to invite influential people to cooperate, we work with many governmental and non-governmental organizations. This is of course great and we thank everyone for this commitment. But still: neither the mainstream media, nor big politics, nor big business, nor the most influential NGOs are interested in the substance of the subject.

Of course, I bow to those who post notes on World Book Day, but that kind of interest wouldn’t be enough. An appropriate response to the state of readership in Poland would be number one in the most influential dailies, portals and news sites with a strong message: We are falling into the abyss!

The threats are serious

I appreciate all the actions and programs carried out by the Ministries of Culture and Education, the actions of local governments, including the involvement of the Union of Polish Metropolises, Krakow and Wrocław as UNESCO cities literature, individual actions of large companies (Green Caffe Nero, Biedronka, Empik with TikTok), activities of several small foundations dealing with reading (because there is no large foundation in Poland dealing with this topic) – but all this, even added up and appreciated, is still clearly insufficient in the face of the threat of low readership for Poland. We behave like a patient who has been diagnosed with cancer at an early stage and who restricts his treatment to the ingestion of vitamins, because he does not yet see any symptoms…

So: which means extremely low 38%. the readership and what is the risk, what is (apparently) not yet visible? I list everything that is clearly proven: increased costs of social assistance, increased costs of adapting people to the labor market, more aggressiveness, less socially engaged citizens, (even) more mental illnesses , higher scale of social exclusion, lower level of empathy, lower academic achievement in schools, in universities, lower level of science, lower level of cooperation, innovation, lower economic development, lower democracy.

You can see the problems today

The first symptoms are already visible. Yesterday I attended a seminar for librarians, where educators pointed out that they could not organize events for a larger group of children, because mental illnesses, including fear of others, are now so common that it is necessary to organize meetings in small groups. There are unambiguous studies showing the positive impact of reading with a child on their social and emotional development, and studies that show cells and strategic games do not provide these social skills. One of the causes of mental illness is the lack of reading and conversation at home.

So I wonder – how far do we want to go before reacting? What needs to happen for us, as a society, to understand that the problem is there and concerns us all, that it is not only a subject for people of culture and education? That reading is the basis for involvement in other subjects (eg ecology), because the level of achievement of the message (eg ecology) is simply a function of the level of readership? What needs to happen to get the wealthiest ministries, large scale corporations, influential NGOs and the most important media to get involved in reading work?

And I ask the question: will our orchestra play a waltz until it sinks, we will gladly swallow vitamins against cancer, or perhaps we will silence the sound of a waltz, which is pleasing to the ear, and so we can hear what the doctor is telling us (based on research!) and, nevertheless, we will answer the problem with enough force before it is too late? Anyone want to join? We invite!

About the Author

Maria Desur

She is the president of the Universal Reading Foundation, an organization created in 2018 with the aim of increasing the level of readership in Poland.

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