In some countries, reading books is a way of life that is embedded in the culture. In a community where reading is highly appreciated, children grow up with their parents reading to them, and are taught to develop an interest in the activity that broadens the mind.
They are bound to grow up knowledgeable and with capacity to see the world and understand it from a different angles.
Finland is a country of just 5.5 million people, with a vibrant reading culture. Finns are said to be the most avid readers in the world. Helsinki, the capital city, is dotted with public libraries, often full of residents reading books, returning books, walking along halls lined with shelves of readings, or simply working in the comfort provided by the libraries.
These libraries are not just places where books live, they are spaces to meet others, to network with like-minded people mostly. They are spaces of self-improvement for young people who are seeking to advance their knowledge in their chosen field, or advance their careers.
According to Tuula Haavisto, Director of the Helsinki City Library, the culture of reading in the city continues to grow strong. “I can’t really say what the reason is for Finnish people’s passion for reading. Children do get exposed to the culture of reading very early on, and because reading is so well-established in the society, it really comes naturally to people to enjoy reading, in libraries or elsewhere,” Haavisto says.
In addition to housing several books, the Helsinki City Library provides safety and comfort for those who would sit and enjoy a board game, or for children who are eager to listen to stories. “We also hold many functions here; reading sessions, discussion nights and so on. We have these events on most days,” the director said.
The graceful Helsinki City Library has been providing services for the city’s residents for a long time, but is currently struggling to accommodate the high number of visitors and their needs. To address the city’s growing needs, there is now a plan to build a much bigger library called the Central Library. Building of the new library is expected to be completed in 2017. It will be located opposite to the city’s Parliament House, a symbolic location that represents equality.
Developing countries can take measures to foster a culture of reading in their population. Encouraging investment in books within schools, not just for students, but also for teachers can be the first step forward. The importance of reading and its benefits to society have been neglected in the name of growth, in many developing countries. All members of a community have the responsibility to encourage a culture of reading and by doing so will raise their own, and others’ quality of life.