Oxford has dropped out of running for the UK Capital of Culture in 2013. It has emerged this week that the city will instead be bidding for the UNESCO World Book Capital.

The decision not to compete to be the first UK Capital of Culture was made despite Oxford was on the shortlist of 29 cities. Oxford City Council cited lack of funding as one of the main reasons for the withdrawal. It was felt that Oxford “could not commit a large amount of money required for such a speculative bid and there was no funding attached if we received the City of Culture.” There was also uncertainty about what was required from the winning city and the Council felt that resources would be better directed towards the bid for the World Book Capital in 2014.

In order to qualify for the nomination, Oxford needs to convince a panel made up of UNESCO judges and representatives from the three major branches of the publishing industry that they have created a suitable programme of events to promote reading in the city.

Reactions to Oxford running for World Book Capital have been very positive. A spokesperson from the University of Oxford stated, “We are delighted that Oxford has been chosen as a potential candidate to become the World Book Capital. We look forward to working with our partners in the city to ensure Oxford is a serious contender.”

The Bodleian Library is also supporting the bid. A spokesperson commented, “Oxford’s libraries have made a major contribution to the book culture of the city for at least 800 years, and continue to play a key role in supporting the world class research and learning, publishing, reading and writing that take place in the city today.” There seems to be a consensus that the award would have a positive impact on the city, bringing recognition to Oxford as a centre of excellence.

Donna Clews, a co-ordinator of STIR, Oxford’s guided reading project, emphasised the importance of reading, drawing attention to the benefits of getting children excited about books at a young age. She said, “Winning this competition would place reading at the forefront of Oxford’s identity in a context not purely related to the university and I believe this won’t just result in a lot of excited students but will also increase literary engagement with people who live, work and grow up in Oxford.”

Alice Beckwith, a keen STIR volunteer, added, “I have seen first-hand the positive effect which reading has on children’s development and confidence. If Oxford were to be World Book Capital in 2014, it would be a massive boost to the community, involving everyone in a productive and fun activity.”

UNESCO World Book Capital is a relatively new prize, instigated in 2001 after the success of the World Book and the Copyright Day. The nomination does not include a financial award, it is “an exclusively symbolic acknowledgement of the best programme dedicated to books and reading.” The current World Book Capital is Beirut, its term began on April 23rd 2009, UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day, and will run for twelve months.