Oxford’s bid to become UNESCO World Book Capital in 2014 has received official government support. The move was confirmed by Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, who stated the government’s intention to back the bid, in the hope of promoting the benefits of books and reading throughout the country.
He talked of Oxford’s ‘contribution to world and especially English speaking culture’ in his letter to the bid committee and reaffirmed the benefits that such an honour could bring to both the city and the country as a whole. He also spoke of Oxford as a ‘world benchmark for learning…through institutions such as its premiere university.’
Councillor Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council, is enthusiastic about the possibility. He said, “Culturally, it will provide a backdrop to a range of exciting events involving the new Bodleian, the new Oxford Brookes Library, OUP and Blackwell’s. Oxford City Council is about to start working with Oxfordshire County Council and city schools to improve literacy attainment across the age ranges, and the WBC year will stimulate several new initiatives for young people in this respect. We hope that these events would be of great appeal to the people of Oxfordshire. World Book Capital status will shine a global spotlight on Oxford’s pre-eminence as a centre for learning and education, and give us the chance as a city to project ourselves onto a world stage.”
The title of World Book Capital is bestowed annually to a city in recognition of the quality of its programs to promote books and reading, with past winners including locations as varied as Bogota and Alexandria. The application window opened at the start of 2012 with bids having to be completed by April 2012; the winning city is due to be announced at some point over the summer. An important aspect of Oxford’s bid is the redesign of the New Bodleian Library, which will reopen as the Weston Library in 2015; work started in August 2011 and the new library will feature better storage for the library’s special collections and greater access for the general public.
Mike Heaney, Executive Secretary of Bodleian Libraries said, ‘The Bodleian Libraries enthusiastically support Oxford’s bid to be nominated as UNESCO World Book Capital. We are already committed to reaching out to people with a passion for books and our literary culture in the city and beyond. Recognition as World Book Capital will certainly enable us to do so more effectively, by shining a spotlight on all we have to offer. We hope to address our and UNESCO’s agenda to promote books and reading as means of combating deprivation, encouraging cultural diversity and championing freedom of access to information.’
However, not all students share this enthusiasm. Andrew Pickett, a second year Geography student at St Catherine’s thinks UNESCO should look elsewhere. ‘I think that Oxford is perfectly entitled to make this bid, however I would say that given UNESCO’s position, it should concentrate its efforts in countries and cities that do not already have the high profile of somewhere like Oxford. There are many parts of the world that have an equally strong cultural base, but could do with the added boost in publicity and awareness – Oxford is a famous city that already has these things.’