A 'library open to the whole world'

Victoria Hunt
Opinion - Publishing Wednesday, 20th October 2010

Buenos Aires is World Book Capital in 2011. Victoria Hunt reports on a city with a vibrant literary culture The capital city of this year's Guest of Honour at Frankfurt, Argentina, is gearing up to take on the mantle of World Book Capital 2011, which runs from 23 April (UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day). Buenos Aires is the 11th city to be designated World Book Capital, after Madrid (2001), Alexandria (2002), New Delhi (2003), Antwerp (2004), Montreal (2005), Turin (2006), Bogot (2007), Amsterdam (2008), Beirut (2009) and Ljubljana (2010). The city was chosen by a panel comprising representatives of the International Publishers Association (IPA), the International Booksellers Federation (IBF), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and UNESCO. The World Book Capital title rewards applications that demonstrate the promotion and fostering of reading. Of Buenos Aires' application, the panel commended 'the consolidated strategy underpinning the programme, as well as the quality and variety of its candidature file'. It beat rival South American cities Caracas and La Habana to take the accolade, as well as Lagos and Tehran, among others. (Yerevan in Armenia has since been named World Book Capital 2012.)

Professor Alejandra Ramirez, director general of Books and the Promotion of Reading in Buenos Aires, said of World Book Capital 2011: It is our wish that in 2011 Buenos Aires is seen as a library open to the whole world. Luciana Blasco, director of the World Book Capital 2011 programme in BA, added: This is a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the world the history, present and potential of Buenos Aires, our city of letters.
The official website for World Book Capital 2011 states that it has three main aims: to promote reading, to promote books and to promote Argentina's literary heritage. Projects for the year include the creation of a multi-lingual public library and an undertaking to turn 100 universal classics into audiobooks. Among other activities there will also be a week entitled Buenos Aires, city of bookshops , involving bookshops across the city.
Styling BA the city of books and bookshops, - there are more than 400 bookshops (one for every 6,000 citizens) - the Argentine Ministry of Culture has implemented a range of literacy campaigns in recent years, including No hay Ciudad sin poes a ( There is no City without poetry ), A m , regalame un libro ( Give me a book as a gift ), and El'd a del lector, 24 Agosto ( The day of the reader, 24 August ). Meanwhile the Buenos Aires Book Fairs (one international, and one aimed at children and teenagers) have gone from strength to strength. The Buenos Aires International Book Fair is the largest Spanish-speaking fair in the world, and one of the most important cultural and editorial events in Latin America. More than 1,200,000 readers visit it every year.
Not surprisingly perhaps, Buenos Aires is considered a literary jewel in Latin America's crown. It has been home to celebrated writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cort zar and Manuel Puig, and since 2003 the country's economic recovery has coincided with a literary renaissance through new authors such as Marina Marisch, Santiago Llach, Fabi n Casas and Washington Cucurto.
Argentina has one of the most developed and fastest-growing Spanish-speaking publishing industries. In the last decade the industry has experienced the consolidation of a diverse market, with new independents as well as traditional publishers seeing a sharp increase in the number of titles published every year (a 120% increase between 1996 and 2006, according to Agencia Argentina de ISBN). Buenos Aires is at the centre of this.
According to Enrique Avogadro, Director of Creative Industries for the Ministry of Economic Development, Buenos Aires was chosen because it has a very strong publishing tradition, in spite of our constant economic crises (or because of them!). Small and medium publishing houses are being more dynamic and adventurous, providing opportunity for up and coming talent, and for new projects (like the manga version of El Quijote) .
Two key publishing industry bodies are the C mara Argentina de Publicaciones (CAP), which represents the interests of the bigger Argentine publishers, and the C mara Argentina del Libro, which acts as a guild for the independent houses. Both will work alongside the Ministry of Culture and other organisations to implement the year's plans.
As an integral part of World Book Capital 2011, the Buenos Aires publishing industry will no doubt hope to capitalise on this success by reaching out to new markets, particularly the growing Spanish-speaking communities in the US, but also in countries such as Canada and Brazil.
This article first appeared in BookBrunch and Publishers Weekly's FRANKFURT FAIR DEALER.