Reading can be a source of positive social transformation: those who read are more likely to engage in political culture, respect difference and contribute to a trusting society that helps everyone to co-exist in peace. However, many people in Bogotá are disengaged from this resource: in 2017, 40% of the Bogotá population did not read a single book and only 37% of the population over the age of 12 visited a library. This deficit is reinforced by the fact that Bogotá only has 23 public libraries, or 1.8 libraries per 100 square kilometres – considerably less than most world cities. Therefore, the City of Bogotá has created a Reading Plan, known as ‘Reading is Flying’, to encourage reading by making it more accessible and affordable.
Reading spaces are being inserted across the city in places people pass through in their everyday lives. There are minilibraries in stations on the extensive transport network, schemes to provide books in nursery schools, reading places in public squares and furniture set out in parks with accompanying reading matter. There is also the ‘Libro al Viento’ (‘Book in the Wind’) programme, which publishes short literary texts which are offered for free in public spaces.
Public libraries are at the centre of the strategy, and a special effort has been made to strengthen and modernise the entire system, which includes the city’s public, school and community libraries. There has been work to extend library catalogues with physical and digital books, and to share collections more widely between different library networks. Programmes have been developed to reach more communities beyond the city centre, including ‘City and Rural Readers’ and ‘Library Families’. Young people and families are trained to promote reading and writing in their communities, supported by travelling suitcases of books from the nearest library.
The Reading Plan was developed with leadership from the Secretariat of Culture, Recreation and Sport and the District Secretariat of Education after a consultation process with stakeholders ranging from libraries, publishers, academics and booksellers, to experts in reading, writing and digital culture. The programme particularly targets young people up to the age of 17, rural populations and those who struggle with literacy.
Through this work, the City aims to make sure all children are literate by the age of eight, and to encourage a culture where the young read and write for pleasure. Ultimately, the City sees a broader reading culture as a route to greater equality and more informed political participation, as citizens gain access to knowledge alongside more opportunities to create and participate. This contributes to the City’s wider ambition to construct a society which is socially rich, inclusive and embraces peace.