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Reading culture in Bhutan improving, say observers

The only public library in the capital, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Public Library has garnered over 4,000 registered members within a span of 40 years.

Since the reading year was initiated in 2013, the library and a handful of bookstores have tried to keep the reading culture alive.

For instance, Junction bookstore gets 3-20 customers daily.

Although very few actually buy books, it is a popular hangout for youth.

Junction’s owner Kunzang Choki said that when the reading year was initiated and with it numerous awareness programs, students bought books as birthday gifts but the number of book buyers has declined for now.

“We have a small reading community, less readers but they are the voracious readers”, said Kunzang Choki.

Lack of infrastructure facilities continue to be the biggest challenge for the public library whereas for private bookstores, the flow of customers depends on seasons causing it to fluctuate.

However, when there are reading activities and months marked in various schools, the book sales go up.

The book stores in town sell very limited choices of books therefore it could be one of the reasons why readers are indifferent, she said.

Kunzang Choki also added that readers do not get the books they want because a new release sells out fast and when the books do not arrive on time they end up ordering online.

The public library has initiated a mobile bus book every Saturday for an hour and every Sunday for three to four hours making books accessible to different locations in Thimphu.

Compared to earlier years, the library has seen an increase in its membership of students.

The library also conducts various competitions for reading, writing and drawing annually to attract readers.

“To improve the reading habits in the society, we must create new infrastructure and give a facelift to the existing ones,” said the library incharge, Tshering Phuntsho.

The members of the public library can suggest new books but the procuring books is a cumbersome process and at times takes more than a year.

Ordering books from a third country is also and difficult and expensive due to heavy taxation.

The public library attracts 14-30 readers minimum and 100- 250 maximum.

The schools are also trying to promote the reading culture in their own ways.

Lungtenphu Lower Secondary School conducts a reading month annually where the students are made to read books for 10-15 minutes daily before classes start. .

The principal of Lungtenphu Lower Secondary School, Lhagay Tshering, said that the Bhutanese lack reading habits and it is a must for students to read. “It is also equally important to create awareness on the importance of reading.”

Tshering Phuntsho, a class XII student of Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School feels that the reading culture in Bhutan is improving especially in schools.

“We have many activities related to literature, magazine writing, speaking and reading, which directly promote reading habits,” he said.

Tshering Phuntsho is an avid reader who said that he learns a lot through books that are not included in the school syllabus.

The general literacy rate of Bhutan is 66% and youth literacy rate 93.1% according to National Statistics Bureau, 2017.

Sangay Dema from Thimphu