Strasbourg has just submitted its application to become “World Book Capital 2024”. Created in 2001, this seal is awarded each year by UNESCO to a city that is committed to promoting books and reading in all its forms. No French city has won it…yet.
Strasbourg, capital of Europe, of Christmas, of cycling and why not soon “World Book Capital”? This is the declared objective of the city, which on April 15 presented its application file to UNESCO to take possession of this distinction by the year 2024.
On March 10, 2022, everyone was invited to take a fifteen-minute reading break, a symbolic way of launching the Strasbourg bid.
For Jeanne Barseghian, first female magistrate of the City, this candidacy makes a lot of sense, since the links forged over the centuries between Strasbourg and books are so evident.
Strasbourg, open book
“It was in Strasbourg that Gutenberg developed the typographical system. It was in Strasbourg that the first printing workshop was opened, where the first newspaper was printed”says Jeanne Barseghian. The mayor recalls that many decisive and revolutionary pages were written in the Alsatian capital: La Marseillaise by Rouget de Lisle or even the founding treaties of Europe, to name just a few.
There are texts but also images. From Gustave Doré to Tomi Ungerer, “Strasbourg was the cradle of a minor art that became major: illustration.. This literary heritage, coupled with a creative bubbling has never lost strength.
Still alive and full, it has been enriched by many structures: a network of 59 public libraries, a mobile library, the National University Library, rich in millions of documents accessible to all, not to mention the 25 bookstores and 40 publishers.
“More than a sector, the book is an ecosystem” remembers Jeanne Barseghian. Strasbourg is an essential stopover for writers who know their gourmet and demanding audience. The Ideal Libraries that bring together 70 authors in each edition, their innumerable queues are, in themselves, proof that there is an unbreakable link between the book and this city.
A program and a war cry: “Read our world”
To earn the title of “Book Capital of the World”, candidates must demonstrate an ambitious program to promote books in all their forms and ages.
Anne Mistler, art and culture assistant for the city of Strasbourg, got down to business and brought together 150 partners. “Reading our world” is the subtitle of a rich program of 200 actions, popular or academic, punctual or long-term, individual or events. All neighborhoods will benefit.
“From the moment that the book is at the center of a policy, of many activities, an ecosystem is created from which absolutely everyone benefits, readers, publishers and authors”, acknowledges Pierre Marchant, de Verger Editeur and member of the Confédération Interprofessionnelle du Livre, “We know that the practice of reading is not the same in all environments. This candidacy is very much aimed at the reading public and I love that we are hanging the wagons a bit, that we are thinking of these people. It is important”.
The announced budget is large: 4.5 million euros for the entire operation. In case of failure, the mayor of Strasbourg reassures the players in the sector: “All planned actions will be executed. The label is not an end in itself, we will not stop the process: everything that appears in the application will be valued. This is how it was thought, knowing that obtaining the seal does not mean an economic endowment from UNESCO”.
A UNESCO label
Launched in 2001 by UNESCO, the title of “World Book Capital” is awarded to a city recognized for the quality of municipal programs to promote books and reading.
In addition to UNESCO, its advisory committee is made up of representatives from the International Union of Publishers, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, and the International Forum of Authors.
Accra in Ghana is the 23rd city to bear this title. It succeeds Guadalajara (2022), Tbilisi (2021) and Kuala Lumpur (2020). If Strasbourg is designated, it will become the first French city to be the world book capital, on April 23, 2024, World Book and Copyright Day. She will be set at her destination by the end of the summer.