SINGAPORE - Ready, get set, read.
The National Reading Movement is up and running, as the National Library Board (NLB) goes all out to nurture the love of reading. The five-year initiative includes plans to bring books to people, such as to the offices of time-strapped adults and to community spaces within easy reach of the elderly.
Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim on Friday (June 3) flagged off the movement by launching a campaign for people to pledge to "read more, read widely and read together" in the two months leading up to Singapore's first National Reading Day on July 30.
"I'll do my part to promote this campaign by pledging to read more and read widely. Because given my position, I'd better not make any definitive promises, but I will do my best," said Dr Yaacob to laughter.
Members of the public can make their pledge to read online at www.nationalreadingmovement.sg
About 200 people, including publishers and NLB volunteers, were at the launch at the National Library Building. The reading movement was launched at the NLB's annual Read! Fest. The annual festival boasts a line-up of programmes that includes talks by authors and writing workshops.
This year, the NLB is doubling down on efforts to get more people to read - a timely push amid survey results that paint a worrying picture of reading habits here. Only 44 per cent of respondents in a year-long National Arts Council survey that ended last year had read at least one "literary book".
The NLB has identified three priorities for a start: reaching new audiences, encouraging reading in the mother tongue languages and expanding its network of partners to better woo readers.
Adults who struggle to find time for reading amid work commitments are one of the NLB's key targets. It will, for one, partner firms to curate reading materials tailored to these companies, including articles on industry trends and short pieces of fiction.
And it hopes to get these adults reading on the move too.
Dr Yaacob in his speech highlighted teacher Nicole Kang, who has eked out time for reading: she pores over books on her daily commute, and sets aside 15 minutes every night for reading. In 2015, he said, she read 40 books - nearly one book a week.
"Dedicating some time to read in our week can go a long way, and now with e-books and audiobooks, bringing our reading on the go is a lot easier," he added.
Later this year, a library-themed MRT train will be launched, allowing commuters to scan QR codes to download recommended e-books among others.
Dr Yaacob also encouraged readers to look beyond books and genres they are familiar and comfortable with. He spoke of Ong Sin Jun, just four, whose first brush with Chinese-language books came when he joined the Chinese reading club, Little Avid Readers, at Bishan Public Library. He used to see it as a language for the older generation, but now speaks Mandarin to not just adults but friends his age.
The NLB will double the number of mother tongue language reading clubs to a total of 10 by this year. This year's Read! Fest places a renewed emphasis on these languages, with over 40 activities such as literary trails and open mic performances conducted in Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
And reading should not just be a solitary affair, added Dr Yaacob.
"The same book can mean many different things to different people. We all bring our own experiences and knowledge to the books that we read, and take away new ideas that are worth sharing with each other."
Seniors in The Next Chapter reading club at Yishun Public Library, started by Ms Hasanah Mohamed Sohdi to rally seniors in her community and discuss topics such as health and retirement, he said, gained new perspectives from these sessions.
He added that everyone has a part to play in making the reading movement a truly national one. Organisations such as DP Architects, UniSIM and Sinda, have come onboard in various ways, from taking reading materials to their staff and students to lending a hand in programmes such as the National Reading Day.
The National Reading Day will see a slew of activities including pop-up reading activities, and a the final day of the Read For Books Drive, a week-long event during which one book will be donated to beneficiaries for every 10 people who spend 15 minutes reading.