Maintaining relationships, grades, work, and even health – the overload of responsibility and pressure in our lives has taken away our personal time and space. People can no longer afford to sit in an empty space with their favorite book while flipping through its pages, reading again their favorite parts of the book. In the midst of a society where readers are disappearing, the Reading Renaissance movement has emerged in an attempt to revive readers and reading.
The Reading Renaissance movement was established in 2013 and since then has carried out several campaigns to bring the reading habit back to Korea. While they encourage all ages to read, their main target is on the youth. Although young people learn at school and receive influxes of information in their daily lives, it is also crucial for them to actively learn rather than just merely receive information given by others. “The process of reading is a method that encourages active learning and should be more emphasized, especially among youths,” said Hwang Kwang Seok, a member of the Reading Renaissance movement board of directors.
In realizing that society has faced a reading crisis, the Korean government has tried many different methods to encourage reading. Many social groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) that have also tried to bring back reading as a habit. However, the Renaissance Movement is separate from the others by some key characteristics. “We want to create a movement that originated in our own country,” said Hwang. According to him, most of the other reading movements in Korea originated from foreign countries that were adapted to our country.
With the aim of encouraging such active learning, the Reading Renaissance Movement came up with methods that could be more creative, fun and approachable for the young. “Nowadays, it is not the lack of books that hampers people from reading,” said Hwang. According to him, although giving external incentives as encouragements can motivate people to read, such methods last only for a short period of time. People have to find it fun and helpful in order to truly internalize the habit of reading. In order to encourage that process, Hwang believes that the culture itself has to change.
In September, as one means of changing the reading culture, the Reading Renaissance movement started a new campaign called the Book Dream. Every 13th of each month, people are encouraged to send a book as a gift to others. It is not only aimed at fostering reading, but also aimed at spreading the culture of sharing. If such ideals can find root in the culture, people will be able to share not only material gifts, but also immaterial beliefs, ideas, and values.
The creative attempt to bring back reading does not stop there. As a part of its reading campaign, the Reading Renaissance has also tested out a youth reading mentor system. This September, college volunteers were enlisted to visit elementary, middle and high schools and give presentations about their experiences with books that has shaped them when they were younger. It allowed an open communication between different age groups about reading books.
According to Hwang, it was not only helpful for the audience, but also to the presenters themselves. “While the college students prepared for the short presentations, they also learnt more about the books they have read, and giving a speech as a whole became a valuable experience for them,” said Hwang. People’s responses after the visits were much more enthusiastic than expected. Teachers, parents and students were all very satisfied with the program, and the Reading Renaissance plans to continue with the program in the future.
The Reading Renaissance recognizes the need to spread this movement not only in urban communities, but also to neglected areas in Korea. Thus, it has started a project aimed at reigniting the small libraries in rural areas. There are many small libraries that have been built in rural areas in an attempt to provide equal education and opportunity for the people living there. In reality, however, these systems are not managed well, and the books are often outdated.
In order to revive these small libraries, the first step that the movement took was to send college students to them report on their current condition. In the future, it hopes to support these libraries with both funding and different projects. The importance here will be to create connections and relationships between the small libraries and those who would be helping them. The Reading Renaissance will be playing a key role in creating these connections. “Spreading this movement is not about efficiency,” said Hwang. He further added that although the number of students that will be reading books in the rural area is decreasing, the effort will be worth it if it can change one child’s life through the experience of reading.
There are many more projects that the Reading Renaissance has carried out since its establishment, and it hopes the number and quality of projects will increase at a fast pace in the future. Since its ultimate goal is to instill a strong reading habit, it will not be an easy task. Changing culture takes not only effort but also a very long time. As a result, progress might be minimal in short the term. However, such small but worthwhile movements will ultimately be able to change Korea’s culture in the future.