Reading Culture Goes to the Next Level

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Afew years ago, Mrs. Farida Ladipo-Ajayi took a very important decision. She quit a lucrative career in an energy firm in Lagos to concentrate on a social enterprise that unite people with books. Called The Bookworm Cafe, this literary initiative has grown big in the mega city with its diverse programmes that promote reading. In commemoration of the World Book Day, Ladipo-Ajayi spoke with THISDAY on what the day means to her.

“World book day is a day set aside to celebrate the love of reading, to celebrate books and the people who make it possible for us to read books from the authors, to publishers, to book sellers, everyone in that chain,” she said. “There are so many ways to celebrate. Older people can read stories to young ones, children can read to the peers, people can gift books to their loved ones, children can dress up in costumes related to characters in their favourite books, and people can donate books.”

To celebrate the World Book Day, the Bookworm Cafe paid a visit to the children’s ward at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). The children on treatment for a variety of ailments are stuck in the ward, out of school, and away from friends. It made complete sense to reconnect them with the world through books.
“We took books donated by friends of The Bookworm Café to the ward,” she continued. “We restocked their children’s library and also gave each child a book. We read stories and did other related activities with the children.”

Interestingly, the Bookworm was established to get Nigerian children to read. It has been reported that many schools in Nigeria do not have libraries. The public libraries are also few, with none available to the public on weekends. Worse still, many school children are bombarded by time-consuming school assignments that leave little or no time for reading before bed-time.
Then, there is the poor power supply situation, which is another huge obstacle to healthy reading habit. The founder of Bookworm Cafe sees the great potential in reading good books in spite of the raft of challenges.

“As cliché as it sounds, readers are truly leaders and we want to change the narrative for children from Nigerians who never read to Nigerians who read,” she said. “We’ve seen how good reading habits have helped children become better in other subjects in school; a good reading habit has also helped them become creative problem solvers and children of character. This makes it really important for children to develop a habit of reading from a very early age. Due to the scarcity of good libraries and relevant library programmes for children, we are trying to fill the gap created by this void because for children to read, they must have access to good books. We are filling this gap through our reading hubs in various communities in Lagos and through a small book store where we sell only books that children love.”

The mileage that Bookworm Cafe had covered in three years had been impressive. With clients nationwide and beyond, the literary hub had made reading a glamorous experience. Buoyed by the 2016 Tony Elumelu Foundation Grant, (Ladipo-Ajayi) is a product of the one-year mentoring/programme was able to transform the Bookworm Cafe from a business idea to a start-up.

A major influence in this passion-turned-portfolio was her childhood. Her father was an avid reader and she was also weaned on books. Her home was equipped with a library with encyclopaedia of various versions. Her mother was also a book fan. She insists that parents too have a major role to play in a child’s reading habit.

Although there are over 10 public libraries in Lagos, the figure is a far cry from the required. Mrs. Ladipo-Ajayi recommended that there should be more advocacy on the use of public libraries and reading in addition to the on-going renovation exercises.

“Our library boards should have departments with people who focus strictly on advocacy, sensitising the public about reading.
“Our library programmes need to be relevant; our libraries need to solve problems for people. Apart from reading there are other adhoc programs libraries run to lure people to use the library. If my library organizes training about how to use excel for instance, I might be interested in that programme visit the library for the first time.”

She added that public libraries should be open on weekends so that persons, who desire to read in quiet places without distractions can do so. She argued that other institutions such as churches should promote the reading culture.

The surge of electronic books have cultivated a new breed of readership as many download and read books online. Still, Ladipo-Ajayi insisted that hard copies of books should be promoted.

“I am an advocate for hard copy books for children; there is that discipline that comes with holding an actual book,” she explained. “However, eBooks serve a purpose and should be promoted as well. For one thing eBooks are cheaper and more accessible. Everyone has a mobile phone these days especially for people living in remote communities. Every child has a right to read no matter where they come from or their financial status.”