Emirates National Reading Index was discussed by officials during a media briefing on UAE Reading Month in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Despite popular concerns, reading is not a dying habit, and community-based interactions are only going to increase the number of people in the UAE who read for pleasure, top culture officials said in the capital on Monday.

Addressing media at a press briefing on the occasion of the ongoing Reading Month in the UAE, senior officials from the Ministry of Culture and Youth said the month will culminate in the announcement of the 2021 Emirates National Reading Index, which is designed to measure and track reading habits among Emiratis.

The index, developed in cooperation with the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Centre (FCSC), will measure the number of books Emiratis read during the year on a voluntary basis, including print books, e-books and audiobooks. Mubarak Al Nakhi, undersecretary at the Ministry, said the reading index will essentially measure the success of efforts to promote reading as a way of life for people in the UAE by 2026, including early reading habits among children. The survey will also look at factors that promote reading, and the current state of Emirati literature.

“Dedicating a full month to reading is in continuation of an integrated national programme aimed at strengthening a culture of reading and intensifying initiatives and programmes to support it,” Al Nakhi said.

The UAE first launched Reading Month in 2017, with the aim of establishing reading as a regular habit among 50 per cent of Emiratis, including 80 per cent of Emirati students, by 2026.

Not fading

Ahlam Bolooki, director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, said the UAE has been seeing positive signs when it comes to the number of people who read for pleasure.

“Our research suggests that virtual conversations about books and reading in the UAE have grown by seven per cent, and this is extremely encouraging. Bookstores are promoting the kind of books people want to read, and #BookTok is now one of the biggest things on TikTok. So reading is not at all a fading habit,” saif Ahlam Bolooki

How to read more

Bolooki said book fairs go a long way in encouraging the reading habit, as do the adoption of books into movies and shows by popular OTT video platforms like Netflix. She also had advice on how to promote reading among children, as well as among busy professionals.

“Read to children as a fun activity during bedtime, and gift them books. And if you’re a busy professional, dive into an audiobook during your drive home,” she advised.

Read in any language

A variety of different institutions have already announced their plans for the month, which include author interactions, book clubs and reading sessions.

“Reading in any language helps develop a knowledge-seeking community, and we encourage it. As part of our mandate, we also seek to promote reading in Arabic. We know that many people descend upon the UAE’s book fairs looking for Arabic works, but we do not know just how prevalent it is. This is why the upcoming survey results will be a key planning tool,” said Dr Ali bin Tami, chairman at the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre.

One of the most important national targets of this initiative is for reading to become a well-established behaviour among 50% of Emiratis, and for 80% of school students by 2026.

UAE Reading Month activities

Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre

Read an Arabic e-book, or listen to an Arabic language audio book, for free by subscribing to the 50,000 reader Bookcase initiative. The initiative will run for three months.

Avail of discounts during the month at the Centre’s mall and park-based bookshops.

Attend reading sessions and workshops at the Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi.

Attend one of the Centre’s poetry, store reading or painting workships.

Delve into the Centre’s printed poetry encyclopaedia when it launches.

Dubai Culture

Attend the two-week book exhibition at Al Twar Library.

Attend a reading session for children at Rashidiya or Hor Al Anz library.

Join the Arabic calligraphy workshop at the Hatta library.

Join a virtual storytelling, poetry reading or author interaction centre.

Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi

Participate in the Creative Reader Competition.

Join the third season of the Library Talk Programme.

Attend a virtual session about the role of libraries.

Sharjah Book Authority

Attend a seminar to discuss reading challenges.

Join a Reading Club to discuss contemporary books.

Watch a film based on a book at the Sharjah Public Libraries.

Attend a workshop in a Sharjah library. Sessions focus on book marketing, energy reading, and smart reading.

Emirates Literature Foundation

Meet a local writer participating in the Reading Caravan initiative.

Takin in a recorded virtual student session from the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge

Participate in a session for creative writing, bookmark design, or public speaking, or watch a puppet shows, at the Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi.

Exchange books with others through the Library on Wheels, which is touring schools in the emirate.