The motto of the new Reading Promotion Plan (2021-2024) that the Ministry of Culture presented a few weeks ago is entitled infinite reading. The purpose is to increase the percentage of people who say they have read at least one book a year, which is 65.8%, according to the Survey of Cultural Habits and Practices in Spain 2018-2019, the latest data from which has.
This plan is already the fourth of these characteristics. reading gives you more was in force between 2001 and 2004. It was followed If you read, they read in 2005, and the third was reading gives you extra lives –with a nod to video games– between 2017 and 2020. But the number of readers has not experienced a spectacular growth since the start of this series of initiatives. To give an example, in 2006 the percentage of readers stood at 55.5% of the population. The 2007 Reading, Book and Library Law includes the Government's obligation to approve and develop plans to promote reading on a regular basis and with adequate budget allocation, but are they necessary and effective?
María José Gálvez, general director of Books and Reading Promotion, sticks to the letter of what the law says and indicates that "if it serves to add a reader or to attract and seduce people to come closer to reading, they already have their usefulness and their functionality". "If there were no plans, surely this index would be lower. It is true that progress is small, but it is constant and it increases a little every year," she values.
That is the vision of the offices of a ministry but, going down to the classrooms of any institute: "There is a great gap that cannot be overcome between the magnificent plans of the Ministry and what it is then capable of reaching the classrooms," says Patricia Martínez, a language and literature teacher at a public high school in Asturias.
The plan, throughout its validity, has a budget of 39 million euros. Of them, 13.2 million will be invested in 2022. The general director hopes that, at least in 2023, the same amount will be extended, but it could be more: "Everything we are capable of achieving".
Gálvez anticipates that within two or three weeks his General Directorate will present a self-assessment system so as not to wait to take stock in 2024 and contemplate what has worked and what has not. "It's a risk for us, but I think it's fair to do this regular self-assessment," he says.
The twelve challenges contemplated in infinite reading They are intended to encourage reading of the printed book but, as it is essential to capture the attention of the young public (15-18 years old), they have had to open up to new supports and forms of writing. "We are talking about the book as the heart of reading, but also about comics and new media: ipads, tablets, mobile phones, blogs," explains Gálvez. "Then there would be that part more on the limit, which is not reading stricto sensu, which are audiobooks, which although they are decoding a text and interpreting it, is not reading. In fact, in the academic field we talk about readers and audio readers". For now, social networks are not part of the plan.
Óscar Valiente is the general director of Norma Editorial, dedicated to publishing comics and illustrated books. One of the debates that arose around the Youth Cultural Bonus that young people who turn 18 in 2022 will be able to apply from this year, it was about what are they going to spend that allowance on. In France, a similar measure was introduced in May of last year and 75% of the money was invested in bookstores, especially in manga comics, a trend that is also expected in Spain and that some have disdained. "The first thing would be to affirm that manga is undoubtedly reading and culture, and the plan may be essential to achieve some of the objectives of the comic sector, which is demanding more attention from institutions," says Valiente.
"In fact, the comic sector was integrated into the working group of the Reading Promotion Plan through the Comic Sector Association. The sector demands more presence in educational cycles, in libraries, in public cultural initiatives , in the training of reading mediators (...) Nor should we forget that the comic is a booming sector, especially among the younger population, so it is also perceived as an ally to achieve some of the general objectives of this plan," says Valiente.
One of the most striking challenges of the plan is the one entitled Giving prestige to literary creation. It is focused on making being a creator – in addition to being a writer, it also includes a translator and an illustrator – a profession that is also attractive to the youngest. "The same as if you see a kid with a skateboard and you think that's cool, then you see a kid with a book and it's the same," says María José Gálvez. The Artist's Statute also walks in this direction, which has "gained momentum" with the creation of the Interministerial Commission and the setting of a calendar.
Manuel Rico is the president of the Collegiate Association of Writers (ACE), one of the entities that participated in the Book Table created in 2020 and from where the approach of this plan started, which affects the members of his guild. Evidently, he considers that this type of initiative is necessary, but clarifies that: "the secret of these plans is that they are carried out in a decentralized manner." "That there be a state initiative but that later the autonomous communities assume it through their library networks, their educational network. It is essential that the plan to promote reading contemplates the field of education, especially in primary and secondary schools, which it is from where the readers are gestated", he adds.
What the president of the ACE raises is one of the main points of conflict in plans to promote reading: how they reach students and the effect they have. It is one of the age groups in which a regression in the number of readers has been seen, as well as in that of those over 55. Rico affirms that it is essential that the investment of the available budget be made "at ground level". "That the money that is invested in the presence of writers in institutes and schools be known exactly, so that there are real activities to promote reading in the cultural centers attached to the neighborhoods, that there be a polyhedral action," says the president. of the Collegiate Association of Writers.
"The application [de los planes] it is at the expense of the teacher's will," says Patricia Martínez, the Asturian teacher, about her experience. "There is no operational and effective channeling of projects or money. I follow the Directorate General for Books on Facebook and I find out about cool things that they are bringing out but, for example, for a pilot project they select ten centers from all over Spain. In turn, this is inbred, because they are going to choose those who already have projects or people who investigate and who are trained, "she maintains.
"At least in Asturias, the Ministry of Education does not reserve hours for teachers to investigate or sign up for projects," he says. "There is no lack of resources, but you have to look for them, on many occasions, putting in your personal time that maybe you could use to prepare classes or correct exams. This happens in small centers like mine, in others that have a person released to run the library, for example, more things can be done there. But this thing that the library is not run by anyone in particular or by someone during shifts or breaks is very common," he adds.
Javier Mestre agrees with her, professor of the same subject and writer of novels such as Made in Spain (Trojan horse) or story factory (The Red Sheep). "The State talks a lot about promoting reading, but then it doesn't release hours from the teachers, who are the ones who take care of the libraries in the public institutes," he maintains. His perception over the years he has been working as a teacher is that there is a significant decline in the reading habit.
In his opinion, the Administration should "get over the madness it has with new technologies at school". "Knowing that the children of Google executives go to analog schools, why are they constantly promoting technification here? I believe that the promotion of reading begins with a return to the analog school, making it a reserve of the literate universe that is in danger due to the irruption of ICT", he indicates. For Mestre, ICTs "decrease the capacity for concentration and attention and harm the construction of new readers." Another of his observations is that his students, in addition to reading less, read worse. "It's worrying. Every time we have to give kids simpler and more simple books because their attention span decreases."
For the also writer and teacher Iban Zaldua, who just published pamphleteer With Pepitas de Calabaza, a book that revolves around concepts related to reading and writing, the issue of whether the Government's efforts should be focused on the quality of books and not so much on quantity, is controversial: "I don't finish to agree with myself. There are days when I wake up less ashen and I say to myself what does it matter, go ahead with everything, anything is good to read, from pharmaceutical prospectuses to Murakami or Danielle Steel, from lost to the river, the thing is that we read, read and read. After all, I also became a reader based on comics and adventure novels that have little to do with what is meant by high literature".
But, on the other hand, he assures: "On the days that desperation overwhelms me, I think no, that quality does not necessarily and automatically come from quantity, and that the public powers should make an effort in that direction. A library should not encourage, For example, reading best sellers. The state has to counterbalance the power of the market, also in the field of reading: I think it should make more of an effort to do so. The same thing happens with those who 'oppose' negative criticism: if we say that the whole mountain is literary oregano, the only one who wins, in the end, is the market. And that means facing, in some way, the issue of quality. Although I know it's very, very slippery."
Zaldua weighs whether it would not be more effective than the plans, "allocating larger amounts of money to aid so that the price of books would be lower, or to expand the budgets and means available to public libraries, whose funds must be remember, they were drastically cut in the wake of the 2008 crisis". But, at the same time, he points out this final reflection: "There is always the same doubt that is usually had with traditional electoral propaganda, that of a lifetime: it may be useless, it may hardly affect the direction of the vote, but nobody dares to dispense with it altogether, just in case".