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World Book Day 2024: origin, meaning and why it is celebrated on April 23

Proposed over a hundred years ago, World Book Day is now celebrated in over 100 countries to promote the enjoyment of reading and books on 23 April.

The origins of World Book and Copyright Day

Reading books brings with it numerous benefits giving people the opportunity to explore new worlds and meet new people both real and imagined. It expands our knowledge and understanding of the world around us and those far away.

To celebrate the wonderment of books and those that make them come to life, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established 23 April as World Book and Copyright Day in 1995. However, it got its start long before that in Spain.

The meaning of World Book and Copyright Day

Fundamentally, it is a celebration of the enjoyment of books, reading and storytelling. World Book and Copyright Day is a recognition of power of books to cross space, time and generations, uniting cultures and linking the present with the future and the past.

Literature is a powerful and effective tool to transmit information and knowledge worldwide, promoting culture, education and science. The World Book and Copyright Day is a time for nations to share the message that books can help address challenges which societies around the world and as whole we currently face. Through understanding the economic and political realities that we’re presented with, it is possible to combat inequalities and misinformation.

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The origin of World Book and Copyright Day

Setting aside a day to celebrate books traces its beginnings to Spanish writer Vicente Clavel Andrés. In 1922 he proposed the idea as a way to honor fellow countryman author Miguel de Cervantes. Four years later the first celebration took place on 7 October, Cervantes’ birthday, but was moved to 23 April, the date of his death, in 1930.

In 1995, the UNESCO General Conference decided to pay homage to authors and books world-wide as a way of encouraging everyone to access books. Choosing 23 April seemed a logical choice, besides being the date of Cervante’s death, it also happens to be the date William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega died, among other prominent authors. Additionally, several distinguished authors were born on 23 April making it a symbolic date in the world of literature.

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The UNESCO World Book Capital

Annually since 2001, one city around the world is chosen to be the UNESCO World Book Capital for a year. The selected city is tasked with carrying out activities over its year-long designation to encourage “a culture of reading and diffusing its values in all ages and population groups in and out of the national borders.”

The initiative was put forward by Spain in 2001, and Madrid was designated the first capital, followed by Alexandria and then New Delhi.

Following those designations cities are chosen each year by the Director-General of UNESCO in consultation with an advisory committee made up of representatives from international organizations representing authors, libraries and publishers.