State of the reading nation

The redoubtable Agnes Nieuwenhuizen has retired from her position as manager of the Australian Centre for Youth Literature (based at the State Library of Victoria). In a recent interview, The Age describes her as a “writer, editor, cultural warrior and champion of reading for teenagers and older children.”
The interview echoes the concerns of writers and experts in many countries:

In Australia, she says, we have writers who produce “fantastic fiction”, and courageous publishers who put it into the marketplace. But a lot of the time, the young people who would enjoy reading these books don’t know about them.
“There isn’t a reading culture,” she says. “We don’t have any kind of concerted national program. Our promotion of books is very poor. Reading is not valued in schools. We are losing librarians. And with very notable exceptions, I think things are slipping.”

You can get the full story here.

Harold Underwood has noted a similar trend in the US. At the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) conference earlier this year, he presented his “weather report” on trends in children’s publishing:

One strong influence on the climate today and for many years past is the reality that many children’s books are bought by schools and libraries, and so political decisions and trends affect the children’s market somewhat more than they do the adult market. What’s the global warming of children’s books in the US? I think it’s the anti-tax movement, which going back to the ’70s has increasingly affected state and federal budgets. All across the country, there has been less money for schools and libraries, and less of what is called institutional spending.
And publishers have responded… Publishers have closed or cut back their library imprints – both the ones that publish nonfiction series and the ones that publish “review-driven” books – and have put their money more into the consumer market. That’s great if you can “write to spec” for book series based on TV shows, but not so great if you are writing literary novels or serious nonfiction.

Read his notes from the presentation on Purple Crayon.

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