Athens calling: reflections from the World Book Capital 2018

Athens is the World Book Capital for the year 2018. From April 23 (World Book and Copyright Day) the city will be the center of the world of books, with activities in the fields of books, reading, publishing and related areas. We will keep a close watch on what is going on in the city with the help of Evi Charitoudi.  Evi is the head librarian of the Nordic Library at Athens, a joint venture by the four archaeological institutes of Sweden (working in Greece since 1948), Finland (1984), Norway (1989), and Denmark (1992). The library is located on the south side of the Acropolis, with 2500 years of literary history on its doorstep. Evi will periodically give her opinion on the ongoing World Book Capital events in Athens. 

Evi Charitoudi in Athens
Evi Charitoudi, head librarian of the Nordic Library at Athens

When, two years ago, it was announced that Athens would be the World Book Capital 2018 the news was received with both enthusiasm and surprise. It was definitely a great honor for the city, but on the other hand, Athens is not a city that reads. The big bookstores have either closed down or have been relocated to smaller buildings due to the financial crisis. The National Book Center scandalously closed in 2011 and the Municipal Library operates in a shabby, unsafe neighborhood. Moreover, Greeks are notorious non-readers, with less than 8 percent of them reading 10 books or more per year. However, there was a huge donation by Stavros Niarchos Foundation for creating a cultural center that includes a building to host the National Library and that made people believe this was a good reason to make Athens World Book Capital.

Ioannis Trochopoulos took on the organization. He is made a name for himself with his work at the public library of the small town of Veroia in Northern Greece. He won the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Access to Learning Award back in 2010 for making creative use of information and technology services to meet the economic, educational, and cultural needs of more than 180,000 people. Later he initiated a successful reading campaign ran by libraries all over the country. That was very hopeful and everyone in the world of books was optimistic about the outcome.

There was never an open call to participate in events, the World Book Organization approached relevant institutions and discussed possible actions. Financial support was not offered, but they did promise to take on the promotion. Meanwhile the new National Library building was inaugurated and most of the collections were moved. Things went smoothly, that is, until the contracts of the contact staff of the the World Book Organization expired. With limited information about the organization and no further announcements on the official web site, people were left in the dark for some time. However, on April 18, the municipality had the official press conference and now we have an idea about what’s going to happen.

From Monday April 23, Athens will officially be the World Book Capital and the opening ceremony will take place at the Acropolis Museum. There will be music and book-related events in the area. Later that night, the Herodion Theatre, at the foot of the hill of Acropolis will open for a poetry evening with free participation by the audience.

Overall, there will be more than 250 events that will take place throughout the year. Distinctive writers, such as Herta Müller, George Saunders, John Connolly and Ian McEwan will visit Athens to participate in book capital events. In May, a mobile library will go through the neighborhoods of the city. Book inspired performances will take place around the city and there will be public readings and lectures. Moreover, through the “Open Collections” project, about 30 institutes, libraries and archives will open unknown, rare or otherwise special collections to the public.

That is what we know so far. The program is still not announced on the web site, but the people in charge stressed out they wanted to surprise us. Perhaps this is the case, let us be surprised! Tomorrow we are the World’s Book Capital and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for us.

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