The World Book Capital (WBC) is an initiative of UNESCO which recognises cities for promoting books and fostering reading for a year starting on April 23rd, World Book and Copyright Day. Cities designated as UNESCO World Book Capital carry out activities with the aim of encouraging a culture of reading in all ages and sharing UNESCO’s values. The nomination does not provide a financial prize.
|World Book Capital|
|Awarded for||Recognition for promoting books and fostering reading|
|First awarded||Madrid, Spain 2001|
|Last awarded||Guadalajara, Mexico 2022|
|Currently held by||Tbilisi, Georgia 2021|
|Website||UNESCO World Book Capital|
UNESCO adopted the 31c/Resolution 29, in 2001, establishing the World Book Capital programme and naming Madrid as the first WBC city in 2001. The advisory committee is composed of UNESCO, the International Publishers Association, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, the International Authors Forum and the International Booksellers Federation.
Six years after the launching of the World Book and Copyright Day (23 April), and following the initiative in Madrid in 2001 to create year-round celebrations around the event, the World Book Capital programme was created. UNESCO invited the professional organisations of the book chain: the International Publishers Association, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and the International Booksellers Federation to create a programme aimed at promoting books during the period between World Book and Copyright Days.
Following a proposal of Spain, supported by many other countries, the UNESCO General Conference decided, on 2 November 2001, that the Organization would grant its moral and intellectual support to the conception and implementation of this initiative, by inviting the international professional organisations of the book chain to work together.
The first UNESCO World Book Capital designated prior to the adoption of 31 C/Resolution 29 was Madrid (Spain) in 2001. An agreement was concluded among the partners that, after Madrid, the subsequent capitals would be Alexandria in 2002 and New Delhi in 2003.
Cities designated as UNESCO World Book Capital carry out activities with the aim of encouraging a culture of reading and sharing UNESCO’s values in all ages and population groups. Through the World Book Capital programme, UNESCO acknowledges the cities commitment for promoting books and fostering reading during a 12 months period. The programme aims to raise awareness for literacy and reading issues, through its numerous activities. World Book Capital brings together the local and national book industries and creates various initiatives with organisations and other stakeholders. The title is also used to draw national and international attention to the literary heritage of a city and nation.
Every year, there is an Open Call for Applications published on the official website of UNESCO. The Open Call for Applications for 2024 was published in February 2022. The nomination does not include any financial prize; it acknowledges the best programmes dedicated to books and reading.
The Director-General of UNESCO is responsible for the designation of the cities following both internal and external consultations with the other members of the Advisory Committee.
The Advisory Committee is made up of one representative of the International Authors Forum (IAF), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the International Publishers Association (IPA) and one UNESCO representative. The committee meets once a year.
To ensure a balanced representation of all regions of the world, the Advisory Committee does not consider consecutive nominations of cities from the same region. Also, the Advisory Committee will only consider an application for a city in a country where another city has been a UNESCO World Book Capital if a period of 10 years or more has elapsed since the previous host city nomination.
The nominating committee accepts programmes presented by or endorsed by the mayor of the city making the application that promote and foster reading. The programmes run from one World Book and Copyright Day and the next. Applicants' programme proposals will be evaluated using six criteria:
By presenting its application each candidate city commits to:
UNESCO and the Advisory Committee assist the chosen capital in the planning and implementation of its activity programme during the two years prior to its mandate as World Book Capital. The city is required to facilitate possible evaluation audits implemented on UNESCO’s request. If the work doesn’t meet the panel’s expectations, the Advisory Committee may withdraw the title from the city at any time during the monitoring phase, with one month’s notice.
The city authorities also agree to support the administrative work of the World Book Capital Secretariat by gathering financial contributions from potential donors or participating in the development of fundraising strategies.
The following cities have been designated as World Book Capitals:
|2017||Conakry||Republic of Guinea|
Madrid is the first city to be awarded the title of the “World Book Capital”. The Spanish capital took the initiative of creating this title and its first events. Numerous activities, around the theme of the popularisation of books and reading, were organised by different companies and organisations which collaborated to support the event. The existing Spanish Bookfair LIBER used Madrid’s World Book Capital status as its theme for the year. During the year, the mountain “La Puerta de Alcalà” was covered with books.
The Great Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The library, first constructed in the 3rd Century BC, is the resource of knowledge and the first world centre of arts and sciences. It was the first library to invent a bibliographic system. Although it was destroyed several times, the government of Egypt built a new Alexandria Library.
In 2002, the Egyptian city reopened its library and presented the new library the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. This project was one of the main reasons Alexandria was selected as WBC, as it encouraged people to have an interest in reading.
New Delhi is home to the largest number of publishers in India. It launched a programme to promote publishing linked to all professional associations and political and social actors concerned with books, including government services. Various activities were organised throughout the year, including establishments of book kiosks, libraries and a permanent book pavilion at Pragati Maidan. An emphasis was given to promoting literary habits among children. Other events were the Delhi Book Fair in August 2003, the two-day National Convention on “Making India a Book Reading Society” and the Children’s Book Exhibition at various prominent schools in New Delhi.
Theme: ABC 2004
The city of Antwerp was selected as World Book Capital for 2004. The chosen theme ABC 2004, evolved to XYZ 2005 in the second part of its programme where four exhibitions were devoted to the written heritage of the city. 
With a budget of 1.7 million euros, several literary projects took place throughout the year including word festivals, theatre street performances, public readings, celebrations of authors, letter-writing contests by mobile phone, publishing of books in collaboration with artists, exhibitions as well as free distribution of blank notebooks to encourage writing. Poems were printed on the wrappers of bread and were made available to the public. In the main hall of DeSingel, Antwerp’s international art and cultural centre, a metal cube was installed which housed a library.
Theme: The Gathering Power of Books
Montreal World Book Capital 2005 (MWBC) goal was to “underline the gathering power of books”. The main objectives of MWBC 2005 were to increase reading habits especially among young people, encourage creative writing, stimulate the book industry and strengthen Montreal’s position as an international cultural city. 
The activities were developed under the themes of books and reading, creativity, education and learning, remembrance and heritage, culture, celebration, and festivals. Authors including Marie Laberge, Réjean Ducharme, Yann Martel, Mordecai Richler, Michel Tremblay had their books highlighted during the year.
Theme: Il Linguaggio dei Segni
Turin was designated World Book Capital, in collaboration with Rome, from 22 April 2006 to 22 April 2007. The municipality of Rome contributed to the programme all year long. The additional WBC theme was: Turin, World Book Capital with Rome: cities to leaf through. The city focused its programme on the meaning of the different punctuation signs and was run by Fondazione per il libro, la musica e la cultura of Turin. 
Activities began in April 2006 with a poetic, literary, and musical evening, the “Bookstock”. Throughout that day various personalities and artists including writers, poets, musicians, and people from the film industry performed in the city centre with approximately 4,000 spectators attending the event. Many events occurred during the year and the majority of them were under TWBC 2006’s theme, the language of signs, which include: “Il Punto Interrogativo” (The Question Mark), “La Virgola” (The Comma), “I Due Punti” (The Two Points), “Il Punto exclamativo” (The Exclamation Mark), “I Pontini de Sospensione” (The Suspension Points), “Il Parentesi” (The Brackets), “Il Punto” (The final Point), “Le Virgolette” (The Quotation Marks), “ll Punto e Virgola” (The semicolon), “Il @” (The @). The programme was made up of more than 800 network projects, organised not only in Turin but throughout the region of Piedmont as well. Among these events were book readings, literary festivals and awards, school writing sessions, theatres, opera, etc. 
Rome implemented cultural exchanges in the libraries of Baghdad, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Guatemala and Rwanda. The “Casa delle Letterature” (House of Literature), in collaboration with the Italian publisher “Gorée di Siena”, has promoted the translation of a book produced by the children of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, struck by a tsunami. This book was distributed throughout Italy for the reconstruction of the destroyed school.
Theme: We’ll get Bogota Reading
During the Bogota World Book Capital, the top priorities were the development of a culture of reading for social inclusion, the promoting reading among children, young people and adults of the city, especially among those who had limited access. The chosen slogan was: "We'll get Bogota reading." 
The city of Bogotá hosts an International Book Fair, held in April every year since 1988. The fair is considered to be the largest in the reading culture and publishing industry in Latin America. Various other initiatives were implemented on several fronts: the creation of the Consejo Distrital de Fomento de la Lectura (District Council for the Promotion of Reading), responsible for setting reading and writing policies in the city, the improvement of education with the development of a modem public library system, the cooperation with a variety of organisations in the public and private sectors, and the launching of programmes to popularise literature, such as Libro al Viento ("Book in thé Wind").
Theme: Open Book, Open Mind
The programme of Amsterdam World Book Capital, named ‘Open Book, Open Mind’, was centred around these three people: Spinoza, Anne Frank and Annie M.G. Schmidt. In addition to the central theme, the programme carried out events towards the Municipal Council’s three objectives:
The first Amsterdam “Book of the Night” was created on March 20. Libraries, bookshops, the weekly book fair and hotel/catering venues around the Spui were filled with literary performances. Multiple authors and poets recited parts of their work for the people in the public square. Many events were targeted to the younger population and especially to children. From October 2008 to April 2009, citizens were encouraged to engage their children in the Children’s Book Capital programme.
Poetry also held a significant part in the programme. During the “Poetry in the Park” project, ten city districts hosted poetry activities open to all district residents. An interactive exposition of “poetry poles” was held in the Vondelpark. Also, the National Declamation Competition launched on National Poetry Day, the 29th of January, the final round of which was carried out as part of the AWBC closing week.
A total number of 298 activities were realised during this period with the aid of public networks and other institutions with 490,000 people taking part. The budget was estimated to reach above € 2.7 million with 60% from government organisations and 40% from funds, sponsors and admission revenues.
Themes: “Books are our best friends. This year, Beirut is their capital.”, “Beirut reads. Beirut writes. Beirut publishes. The triple identity of Beirut.”
The World Book Capital in 2009 was Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. A series of activities were planned, from literary cafés to specialised fairs, international symposiums and conferences, writing workshops to all kinds of forums with a focus on Lebanese writers. The activities revolved around four themes: "Books, vectors of culture", "Book trades", "Promotion of reading and writing", "Encourage youth to read”. Exhibitions honouring the great Lebanese and Arab writers also took place during this period. Other events included thematics such as Lebanon and the Alphabet, festivals of poetry, comics, storytelling, a professional book fair, conferences dealing with copyright, the future of books, translation, meetings with Mediterranean booksellers, competitions and prizes.
Theme: “In The Realm of the Book”
The programme incorporated objectives related to the promotion of reading books, the increase in the accessibility of books by all the population, the spread of the culture of reading and the introduction of different literary genres to the public.More than 300 activities were organised during the Ljubljana World Book Capital 2010 including:
The World Book Capital programme during the year 2011 was held in Buenos Aires in Argentina. The project unit “Unidad de Proyectos Buenos Aires Capital Mundial de Libro” was created especially for the occasion and was ran by Luciana Blasco.
The three pillars of the Buenos Aires 2011 World book Capital were:
Traditional yearly events such as the Night of the Bookstores, International Poetry Festival and Night of the Museums were enhanced for the occasion of World Book Capital. During that period 85 events were organised, 80% of which were free of charge. In addition, the suburbs of Buenos Aires organised community libraries and book events for local people.
Historical authors, like Borges, Lorca, Sabato, were celebrated. New event entries were added to the International Bookfair and Filba, a Buenos Aires literature festival. Also, international books were showcased, with the main presence of French and Quebecois literature.
Unconventional spaces were utilised to attract new audiences. The Tower of Babel, designed by artist Marta Minujin, was a 25-metre tower made of 30,000 books in languages from all over the world. Approximately 115,000 books were distributed by buses as well as in subways, trams, and theatres. In addition, the tour of the city by bike included themes around poetry and reading Shakespeare. A website was also developed as a dissemination tool and served as a literary events diary for the year. The electronic newsletter managed to attract 20,000 subscribers.
The programme was funded by different streams: the Ministry of Culture, civil society or private organisations, as well as the Metropolitan Fund for the Arts and the Patronage system.
Theme: … eternity of the word
The schedule of the Yerevan World Book Capital 2012 programme emphasised “the role of children and young adults in building knowledgeable societies”. Some of the events aimed at this objective were: “Give us Books, Wings to Fly”, “I Am Creating a Book”, “Returning Books Back to Children” and “Colorful Books”. Another priority of the Yerevan World book Capital was to explore new technologies, ideas and innovations.
Conferences, symposiums, and exhibitions were organised to discuss issues related to copyright, translation, freedom of speech, humanitarian and societal issues, genocide and internationally distinguished works of literature. Books about cinema, art, music. Other art forms were also presented during exhibitions, seminars, and film premieres.
Theme: Read for Life
Numerous activities were organised all year long to reach these objectives. Bangkok collaborated with numerous organisations from the public and private sectors. Activities were run with departments in Bangkok, including those of education, healthcare, environment, social development, traffic control and 50 others.
All sectors were also tied together under another theme, “Thinking, Doing, Learning, Fixing, and Taking Responsibility Together.” This stimulated mutual support and contribution from multiple stakeholders and associate networks like TK Park, The Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand, SCG, The Mirror Foundation, Chula Book Center, Thai Health Promotion Foundation, and more.
Theme: Books: Windows to Our World of Possibilities
Port Harcourt is the first city in Sub-Saharan Africa to win the title. The Rainbow Club organisation, a non-governmental organisation applied and won the bid on behalf of the Nigerian Government.
The theme of this year “Books: Windows to Our World of Possibilities”, communicates the concept that reading books provides knowledge and exposure to new mentalities and ideas, as well as that it transports the reader to new worlds. Educating and cultivating citizens aimed at empowering them to protect democracy, promote social justice, and contribute to the development of their communities.
Besides the main theme, other main objectives of the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014, were promoting Nigerian and African literature, fostering a reading culture among children and youth, and improving literacy rates. Book fairs and reading events took place throughout the year.
The World Book Capital programme 2014 granted people access to more libraries and more literary activities in the city. The programme encouraged young people to use facts from their lives to tell their own stories, through the usage of technology and social media. This was achieved in several events: The Book Clubs, Reading Tree, Book-of-the-Month, exhibitions, amongst others. Other activities were: “Library Support Programme”, a voluntary training by other adults and donations to modern school libraries which were recently created, “Books on the Radio”, “Television Show: Game Show-” Know your World”, “ Monthly Drama performances”, “The walking Book”, “Ken Saro-Wiwa ‘Writer-Martyr Memorial Square’”, “Introduction of a writers’ residency program”, “Possibilities for Nigeria-Essay Contest as Nigeria turns 100”, “Integration into existing state events”, etc.
Theme:“Books for all” “Read and Discover Yourself”
A total number of 45 projects were organised in 6 different domains:
1. Reading Culture in Daily Life
2. Invigorating the Publishing Industry
3. Renaissance of Humanities in Incheon
4. A City that Communicates Through Books
5. Commemorative Projects
6. Special Events
Large scale events, such as the Korea Reading Festival and the Korean Library Association’s General Conference, were organised and were met with extensive participation.
The Incheon EduContent Fair introduced a place where education met with digital technology. It constituted a platform for global information sharing on the latest trends in related industries. This fair also presented the future of education with state-of-the-art technologies such as Smart Class and Hologram Class. Local libraries provided reading resources for different social groups, age groups, the less privileged. Events were held aimed to reignite interest in the humanities. People and companies supported the local libraries through book donations and voluntary work.
According to the National Survey of Reading Habits, conducted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism the number of books read by Incheon citizens in 2015 increased by around 47%.
Theme: Read to me Wroclaw
The Polish city of Wroclaw is the first city to be awarded both the World Book Capital and European Capital of Culture titles in the same year. With the slogan "Read to me Wrocław", Wroclaw planned various cultural activities for participants of all ages.
During the World Book and Copyright Day, on April 23, the event “European Literature Night” took place, which launched a special edition due to World Book Capital celebrations with a focus on William Shakespeare. Excerpts from his works were read and interpreted in places all around the city by renown Polish actors, like: Ewa Skibińska, Magdalena Cielecka, Jan Nowicki, Arkadiusz Jakubik and Bartosz Porczyk.
The Polish city of Wroclaw also launched a composition competition in order to create a "world book anthem". This book hymn featured the words from the work of Tadeusz Rozewicz, the "Petit cheveu du poète". Tadeusz Rozewicz, the polish poet and playwright, died in Wroclaw in 2014. His work was translated into hundreds of languages.
Theme: Make Dreams Come True
The capital of Guinea, Conakry, is the first city in francophone Africa to be nominated with the World Book Capital title. Until 2017, only three African cities were appointed with the title: Alexandria in 2002, Port Harcourt in 2014 and Conakry in 2017.
At the time of Conakry’s nomination, 60% of the Guinean population could not read. The project intended to fight illiteracy in Guinea, by helping young people and people from the rural areas get access to books.
Higher literacy and stronger reading culture in schools, libraries, institutions and among the general public, were all primary priorities of the programme. Monthly cultural events focused on the country’s authors and culture. In addition, a media library was built in each commune of Conakry and reading areas were established in every neighbourhood. Guinea's book industry benefited from the improved infrastructure and access to books, thanks to the new constructions for the World Book Capital programme.
Theme: Books Everywhere
The programme was based on 8 thematics:
Each of these eight objectives was aligned with the main goal of the project to make books and culture accessible to everyone, residents or visitors, across all neighbourhoods of Athens. A total of 615 events and activities were realised during the designated year under the themes of; Celebrating Reading (234 events), A world of writers (international writers) (41 events), Greek writers (19 events), Athenian Book Itineraries (48 events), Open Collections and archives (43 events), Educational Activities (81 events), The Book and the Arts (114 events), and Contemporary Narratives (35 events). The programme cooperated with 212 cultural institutions, such as museums, embassies, foreign institutes, international organsations and non-governmental organisations.
Inclusive and free of admission events were organised in public and private spaces across the seven municipal districts. Some of the programme initiatives were: moving and pop-up libraries, Bibliobuses- books on wheels, cultural performances and talks by esteemed authors from around the world, poetry readings, installations, festivals, exhibitions and many more. The programme reached about 450.000 residents and visitors of all backgrounds.
Theme: Open Books, Open Minds
The activities were developed under six pillars:
The government along with non-government entities formed multiple activities such as poetry readings, singing and storytelling events in industrial workers accommodations. More than fifty libraries with books in Urdu, English and Tagalog were gifted to industrial workers.
Book Fairs and campaigns were also part of the programme. The yearly International Book Fair is an 11-day international book fair held annually in Sharjah. During the fair “Give Your Book a New Life”, more than ten thousand books were available at symbolic prices to make reading affordable to people from every socioeconomic background. Also, a Book Donation Campaign was carried out, the “Kan Ya Ma Kan”, which translates to Once Upon Time.
Another popular campaign that combined reading and outdoor activities, was the Sharjah Beach Library campaign. Beach libraries were installed in Sharjah, filled with books for all ages, in various languages.
During the year, many public offerings were commissioned, such as the House of Wisdom. This new library and cultural centre combined traditional and digital resources of knowledge, information, interactive learning and contemporary pedagogy. The House of Wisdom provides free and open access to people of all ages and nationalities. It extends over 12,000 square metres and includes two floors of libraries with more than 105,000 books, discussion halls, indoors and outdoors reading areas, as well as an education space designed for children.
Theme: KL Baca: Caring through Reading
The World Book Capital 2020 was held in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Under the slogan KL BACA: Caring through Reading, the organising committee stated that “A city that reads is a city that cares.”.
The activities were organised around 5 streams:
The overall themes of the initiatives of Kuala Lumpur World Book Capital 2020, besides Caring through reading, were focused on Diversity and Environmental Rejuvenation. These two pillars were considered necessary in building a strategy aimed at sustainability.
Theme: Ok. So your next book is…?
The World Book Capital programme in Tbilisi primarily focuses on new media and technologies as tools for the reading facilitation and book promotion targeted towards young people. Many events have been programmed for the year. Some of which include book festivals, digital and sustainable book related activities. The year's main goal is to make reading more popular and accessible throughout each neighbourhood and age group.
This article incorporates text derived from a free content work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO License statement/permission. Licensed text taken from UNESCO World Book Capital, UNESCO.
This article incorporates text derived from a free content work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO License statement/permission. Licensed text taken from UNESCO World Book Capital, Call for Applications 2024, UNESCO.