World Book Day: Is It Still About Books?

World Book Day takes place again this year on 2nd March but has it lost its focus? Has it become a commercial opportunity to sell that ‘must have’ costume to parents already struggling with the costs of bringing up their family? Is it still about reading?

The World Book Day  website declares its aims loud and clear:

“The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.”

And this it certainly does with 15 million book tokens sent out (courtesy of National Book Tokens Ltd) and providing schools and organisations with educational resource packs full of ideas about enjoying books.

It states:

World Book Day is a celebration! It’s a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. In fact, it’s the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world.”

Is it still a celebration of books?


On the run up to World Book Day every parent quickly becomes aware that their children are being asked to come to school as a favourite character. Nothing wrong in that? Sounds fun? Adverts appear on t.v from leading supermarkets for costumes – glitzy, appealing and probably made by a child in a land far away untouched by the joys of World Book Day.

Some parents make their own. Hours spent just getting it right so their child is not the one who looks different.

Reading and Libraries

Reading is the greatest liberation of the mind that can happen to any individual, regardless of age. The joy of escaping into another world, discovering new ideas,people, places, the wonders of the illustrators art – all of these wonders appear with the opening of a book. And it doesn’t have to cost you anything – except your time.

There are 504 libraries in Scotland. A number that is on the decrease as local councils cut back on this public resource.

Dunfermline born Andrew Carnegie who used his immense riches from the US steel industries to help create many libraries said:

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration”

In the UK and Ireland 660 libraries were funded by Andrew Carnegie or by the Carnegie UK Trust, starting with the Central Library in Dunfermline – the world’s first Carnegie Library, opening in 1883. There are a large number throughout Scotland including Edinburgh Central Lending Library 1890, Aberdeen Central Library 1892, Wick Library 1897 and Bridgeton District Library 1903.

In Orkney, we have the oldest public library in Scotland. 

“In 1683, William Baikie bequeathed his library of over 150 books to the “Publeck Liberarie of Kirkwall” which, as former head librarian David Tinch says in his publication The Orkney Library 1683 – 1983, suggests that a public library already existed in Kirkwall. However, we are satisfied to date our inception from this year.”

And in 1890 with funding from the Carnegie Trust, The Orkney Public Library was set up.

Libraries are changing.


Orkney Library & Archive Kirkwall

The Orkney Library twitter account has 33.5K followers.  Libraries are not just about books but then neither is reading. Libraries provide people with a place to meet, to contemplate, to access council services,  to go online when they do not have that facility at home, or to read the paper.

According to the National Strategy for Scottish Public Libraries in Scotland Strategic Group

“It is clear from our consultation process that learning remains a key reason for people to use libraries. Many participants accessed lifelong learning opportunities offered by the library including, for example, computing courses, Scottish history sessions, digital photography courses and language learning.”

In this era of council cut backs the library is often the first to go or be limited in its hours and services it provides.

Nick Gaiman author of children’s  and adults’ books including ‘American Gods’ reveals his love of books, libraries and reading:


Neil Gaiman 

” As a child he discovered his love of books, reading, and stories, devouring the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, and G.K. Chesterton. A self-described “feral child who was raised in libraries,” Gaiman credits librarians with fostering a life-long love of reading”

“I wouldn’t be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans.”

So on World Book Day remember the power and joy of libraries and of reading. The costumes can be fun but far more important is reading to your child, with your child ,your child reading to you and letting your child have the opportunity to read. It doesn’t have to cost anything except time.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame



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3 replies »

    • I love books, of all kinds and couldn’t get enough reading material once I learned to read. Libraries were like palaces to me (and still are). My dad took me to Blackhall Library in Edinburgh when I as a kid and enrolled me. The library building was brand new with many empty shelves but for me it was a revelation. Fiona G

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