Since 1995, World Book and Copyright Day has been celebrated across the globe on April 23 every year, a day dedicated to promoting reading, publishing, and copyright. It was designated by UNESCO at its General Conference, which was held in Paris in 1995, to pay a worldwide tribute to books and authors on this date, and to encourage everyone to access books.

To commemorate this auspicious day, the National Hangeul Museum of Korea, under the Ministry of Culture and Sports Tourism, hosted an event at its premises in the city of Seoul on April 23, 2024, inviting local and foreign resident book readers, offering free books and giving rose flowers as a kind gesture of encouraging a reading culture. 

In Korea, this day holds a special significance, intertwining with a longstanding tradition of giving out books and rose flowers to everyone. At the heart of this tradition lies the mission of promoting literature and the Korean alphabet, Hangul. Hunminjeongeum, a book that easily explains the origin of Hangul, and a signed poetry book by Na Tae-Ju, a renowned Korean poet, were a package of gifts.  

A group of Thai students receiving their book gifts.

I had the opportunity to speak with Kim Ilhwan, director of the National Hangeul Museum, to understand the significance of this event and their efforts to promote reading culture and Hangul. “As today we are celebrating World Book Day in Korea, we have a tradition of giving out books and roses to everyone on April 23 every year. UNESCO designated World Book Day in the 1990s and our museum holds this event annually on April 23 to arrange and give out free books. And that’s why we’re doing this event happily today. We are a National Hangeul Museum, so we are interested in promoting books and our Hangul. So that’s why we’re handing out the easy-to-read Hangul book, Hunminjeongeum. ” This he told to Pressenza.

In a world where digital media is becoming increasingly dominant, the museum recognizes the importance of preserving the tradition of reading physical books. Despite the rise of e-books and online reading platforms, they encourage citizens to read paperback books. They attribute this commitment to the scientific and logical structure of Hangul, which facilitates easy reading and sharing among all. “We have accepted and adopted some of the parts of new media and within those digital media platforms, we are also planning for the AI Hangul exhibitions. In addition, our main national Korean library also holds some of the e-books within the digital aspect. Thus, we do have a lot of bright futures ahead of us. These efforts could be our efforts to promote some of the reading culture.” He added.

According to its official website, UNESCO and the international organizations representing the three major sectors of the book industry – publishers, booksellers, and libraries, select the World Book Capital for a year to maintain, through its initiatives, the impetus of the Day’s celebrations. 

April 23 is a symbolic date in world literature. It is the date on which several prominent authors, William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. This date was a natural choice for UNESCO’s General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a worldwide tribute to books and authors on this date, to encourage everyone to access and read books.

Photos: Bereket Alemayehu