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Poland: The State of Reading

A few weeks ago, a new social campaign – Reading in Poland – was launched by one of Poland's largest daily newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza, due to the fact that reading rates in Poland are very low: a report published by the Polish National Library states that 56 percent of the Polish people don't read books at all – and are also incapable of reading texts longer than 3 pages. A huge debate has started on the reading culture in Poland and the reasons for the crisis it is facing.

Public figures across the country got deeply involved in the project, urging the society to start reading. A series of articles [pl] was published on the lack of reading passion and steps that could be taken to change the situation. In one of them [pl], a Polish writer and essayist Janusz Rudnicki puts the blame on the list of obligatory reading for primary and high school students, created by the Ministry of Education. He writes:

W szkole straszy. Jeśli porównać ją do opery, to jej upiorem są lektury. Ich liczba jest makabryczna. A co najmniej połowa, licząc już od szkoły podstawowej, absolutnie zbędna. Czytanie ich wszystkich to droga przez mękę. Niech sczezną. A razem z nimi odpowiedzialne za ten jeżący włosy na głowie repertuar MEN. I nauczyciele.

Schools are haunted. If you compare a school to the opera, the fantom will definitely be called “a list of obligatory reading.” The amount of items on it is completely horrifying. At least half of them, without taking primary school into account, is unnecessary. Reading them is a torture. They should be burned. And with them, we should also burn our Ministry of Education and all of the teachers who are responsible for creating this list.

The results of the research are especially alarming when compared to similar reports on reading habits conducted in other European countries. For instance, reports based on a research conducted in the Czech Republic and France state that 83 percent of the Czech people and 69 percent of French citizens have read at least one book in the past year, whereas in Poland the figures are dramatically lower: only 44 percent of the Poles have had any contact with books at all (including cook books, albums and dictionaries!). The most shocking figures show that 20 percent of the Poles with higher education (among them lecturters and teachers) haven't read a single book in the last few years.

Polish bloggers have also joined the conversation. One of them, known as Metzliszcze, comments on the results presented in the report:

Zacznijmy od tego, że w moim domu lektury zawsze były obecne, a moi rodzice nie potrzebowali akcji społecznych żeby wiedzieć, że dzieciom należy czytać książki. Z tego też powodu niewyobrażalne jest dla mnie, jak można w ciągu 365 dni nie znaleźć chwili czasu na to, żeby sięgnąć po przynajmniej jedną książkę. A tutaj proszę, 56% spośród badanych taki wysiłek już zdecydowanie przerósł.

Let's begin with a remark that at my home books were always present, and my parents didn't need any social campaign to know that kids shoud be read to. This is the reason why I find it very hard to believe that for some it is impossible to find a single moment during the 365 days to reach out for at least one book. But here we go: 56 percent of the society found this “effort” to be too much.

He also writes:

Czy pozostaje coś jeszcze do dodania? Może konstatacja, że od 1992 roku (czyli momentu od kiedy zaczęto systematycznie to obserwować) poziom czytelnictwa sukcesywnie u nas spada, a lada moment staniemy się narodem wtórnych analfabetów.

Is there anything else to add? Maybe one should state that since 1992 (the year marking the beggining of regular research on the matter), the number of Poles who read systematically has dropped, and we are going to turn into a nation of re-born illiterates sometime soon

Varia, whose blog contains mainly the reviews of the books she has read, wonders what the reasons behind the situation are:

Z czego to wynika? Moim zdaniem, niestety, z lenistwa intelektualnego. Ono przejawia się nie tylko w niskich wynikach czytelnictwa, ale także w tym, że w godzinach największej oglądalności w telewizji można obejrzeć tylko kolorowe seriale albo krzyczące teleturnieje albo w tym, że multipleksy nie wyświetlają tak zwanych ambitnych filmów. Zbyt wiele osób pozwala sobie na intelektualne lenistwo, na karmienie mózgu wysoko przetworzoną papką, która szybko się wchłania i nie każe się nad sobą zastanawiać. A czytanie książek, nawet takich rozrywkowych, wymaga jednak jakiegoś wysiłku intelektualnego i skupienia przez dłuższy czas. Ale to są wzorce, które wynosi się z domu i ze szkoły.

Why did this happen? In my opinion, it is mainly the intellectual laziness that is at fault. This laziness shows not only in the low reading rates, but also – for instance – in the type of popular series or prime-time TV contests. It is also very hard to find “challenging” movies at the cinema. Too many of us allow ourselves to be intelectually lazy, to feed our brains with meaningless stuff that doesn't require any self-reflection. And reading books is demanding, it requires some effort and the abillity to concentrate for a while on one thing. But these are the things we are taught at school and at home.

Another blogger, whose nickname – Kindlemaniac – reveals his true passion, has created a survey, asking his followers to anwser several questions concerning their reading habits. The results are remarkable: over a half of his readers claim to be reading more than 10 books a year, with 17 percent reading over 50! He writes:

Bardzo mnie cieszy fakt, że wśród odwiedzających bloga jest tylu regularnych czytelników książek. Myślę, że ma to też swoje uzasadnienie pragmatyczne. Właśnie osoby, które decydują się na zakup czytnika zazwyczaj na co dzień czytają dużo a czytnik ma im jedynie ułatwić oddawanie się ‘nałogowi’. Co ciekawe nie rzadko świeżo upieczeni właściciele Kindle'a stwierdzają, że odkąd posiadają czytnik przeczytali więcej książek w danym czasie niż normalnie by się im to przydarzyło.

I'm very pleased by the fact that among the visitors of my blog there are so many people who read on a regular basis. I think that there could be a very pragmatic explanation for that. It is often the people who buy themselves an e-book reader that tend to read a lot, and e-readers simply allow them to indulge in the addiction even more. What's interesting is that it seems to be quite common for the new Kindle users to discover that since they started using [the device], they read even more than before.

Kindlemaniac concludes with a statement:

Można powiedzieć, że grupa czytelników bloga reprezentuje wręcz odwrotne tendencje niż główny nurt.

We can easily say that this blog's readers demonstrate reverse tendencies than the mainstream ones.

But is that so for the rest of the Polish blogging society?

It seems to be at least not as bad as some may imagine. Nobooks writes:

Serwisy literackie odwiedzają setki tysięcy internautów, którzy tworzą wirtualne biblioteczki, oznaczając między innymi, co chcą przeczytać. W Empikach setki książek i komiksów są po prostu „zaczytywane”, na co narzekają ich wydawcy. Targi książki biją rekordy popularności.

Online literature websites are visited by hundreds of thousands of surfers, who create their virtual libraries, ticking books they would like to read. At Empiks [a Polish bookstore chain], hundreds of books and comic books are being read over and over again (publishers are not very happy with it). Book markets are gaining more and more popularity each year.

According to the Polish bloggers, the Polish “reading horizon” may seem clouded, but there is hope. The happy news – especially for those who see the internet as a new platform for sharing knowledge and thoughts – is that due to the Polish blogosphere survey, over 3 million Poles (who are older than 15) claim to be reading blogs every day. What's more, over 300,000 of the Polish children read blogs on a regular basis, 180,000 write their own internet diaries, and nearly 160,000 leave comments on things they read about online.

2 comments

  • Jordan

    High School reading lists ‘haunt’ most (European) nations? What are other nations data on it? This fact cannot account for the reading decline in Poland.

  • D

    It’s a very good article, I would however appreciate more data on other countries.

    What is Poland’s position globally?

    More importantly:
    WHY is reading in decline?

    Do we have any real data?

    Is it really the reading lists?

    I believe this article is excellent material for a more investigative feature.

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