Italy’s ‘Why I Read’ Campaign Flies Again

In News by Porter Anderson

Italy’s annual book-donation program for school libraries is back this year, despite the constraints of the coronavirus pandemic. Publishers, booksellers, and students benefit from citizens’ donations.

Image: #IoLeggoPerché, illustration by Zampediverse

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Franceschini: ‘This Edition Will Be Different’
Again making the connection between the book publishing industry’s importance in Italy and the market’s educational programs, the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) announced on Tuesday (November 17) that the #IoLeggoPerché project (“Why I Read”) will run again this year, with dates of November 21 to 29.

Working with the ministry of education and the libraries’ association, the AIE leverages this campaign each year to urge Italian citizens to donate books to their school libraries—complete with its trademark cartoons of big-mouthed grinning ragazzi e ragazze (and teachers).

The way this works is that the project’s platform online carries wish lists of books from school libraries—lists being provided to local bookstores. Students and their parents can then check a school’s list and donate what’s asked for. Books, then, are procured from the associated bookstores, meaning that publishers, authors, and retail outlets all benefit in the sales that result from the generosity of the population engaged in the nine-day drive.

This year, the program is stressing that donors need not physically visit stores to make their donations, offering e-commerce channels for choosing a bookstore and book digitally, “donating from a distance.”

Azzolina: ‘Planting a Seed’

Image: #IoLeggoPerché, illustration by Zampediverse

For the publishers, this is an important point of continuity in the industry’s relationship with government departments needed for recovery from the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

The association’s president, Ricardo Franco Levi—who is also vice-president of the Federation of European Publishers—has worked closely with the culture minister Dario Francheschini and with the education minister Lucia Azzolina. The three of them successfully have pressured the Giuseppe Conte government for many months the fundamental and integrated importance of Italy’s cultural wealth, literature, and educational bloc.

One of the most powerful hooks here, of course, is the importance of Italian culture to the driving industry, tourism. While autos, pharmaceuticals, fashion and apparel, precision machinery, and textiles all are big in the country’s economy, its now staggered tourism industry is the international draw, and the AIE and associated creative industry associations have worked closely with Franceschini and Azzolina to communicated this forcefully to Rome.

The advent of this year’s #IoLeggoPerché is understood as another victory in that effort, not least because the nationwide program takes extensive ministerial and industry coordination to pull off.

As many as 2.5 million students, 13,000 schools, and 2,500 bookshops are addressed in the program this year, requiring the collaborative inputs of:

  • The Italian ministry for cultural heritage and activities and tourism (MiBACT)
  • The department for libraries and copyright
  • The Center for Books and Reading
  • The ministry of education’s department focused on students, inclusion, and orientation
  • The Italian Libraries Association (AIB)
  • The Italian Booksellers Association (ALI)
  • The Italian Trade Union of Booksellers and Stationers (SIL)
  • Patronage of the ministerial department for information and publishing
  • Support from the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers
Levi: ‘We’ve Pulled Out All the Stops’

Image: #IoLeggoPerché, illustration by Zampediverse

“We weren’t sure we would be up and running in this year of emergency and difficulties,” Levi is saying to the news media today (November 18), “but we have risen to this great challenge with the precise aim of supporting our schools.

Ricardo Franco Levi

“Bolstered by awareness of the invaluable role of school libraries for their contribution in guaranteeing equal opportunities for reading and education to all students, our project has so far taken more than 1 million books into schools,” he says. “We’ve pulled out all the stops out and managed to make it happen it this year, above all thanks to support from our institutions. And once again the response has been surprising.

“In just over a month-and-a-half, more than 13,000 schools have registered. They represent 2.5 million kids in more than 114,000 classes.

“Now, all together, we can once again go that extra mile and donate a book to a school between November 21 and 29.”

Dario Franceschini

Franceschini, the cultural minister, is quoted, saying, “This edition will be different from others, as different as the ongoing emergency is. That has forced us to do some things in a quite unexpected way.

“However, every crisis has its silver lining, and the [springtime] lockdown was a chance to rediscover silent places where, not by chance, many rediscovered the pleasure of reading.

“I believe that this will stay with us. Anybody involved in this splendid thing that is reading will remember it for a lifetime. I believe we ought to invest in this. And I believe that by now many people, including political decision-makers, have realized the importance of investing in culture for our societies, in Italy in particular.”

Lucia Azzolina

Azzolina, the education minister, says, “Reading unites us, even in our most difficult moments. This is why I’m enthusiastically backing #ioleggoperché, an initiative that has the noble intent of promoting culture and that helps to guarantee greater opportunities for reading to all pupils.

“I’d like to thank the Italian Publishers Association, which organizes this project every year, receiving huge support from official bodies, institutions, teachers, school heads, booksellers, students, and families.

“Donating a book to a school or library means planting a seed that will grow elsewhere an infinite number of times. This is why I hope we see widespread  participation.”

Promotional efforts are to include mentions of the #ioleggoperché campaign on the long-running soap opera Un posto al sole on Rai 3, “A Place in the Sun,” where the residents of Palazzo Palladini “aren’t just neighbors but also friends, enemies, and sometimes lovers.” The characters in the series are expected to speak directly about going to their bookstores and donating books on November 20, 23, and 26, apparently taking a break from their chatter about their many relationships with each other.

COVID-19 Conditions Update

It’s unclear, of course, how the project may fare this year in Italy where, as Frances D’Emilio writes today for the Associated Press, the medical system may be on the verge of collapse in the country’s south. In the north, the epicenter of the initial springtime assault, “Italian health care enjoys a better reputation—but many hospitals there are also overwhelmed,” writes D’Emilio.

The Guardian’s Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo and Sam Jones in Madrid wrote Tuesday that Italy, like Spain, has recorded its highest daily coronavirus death toll of the second wave, reporting 731 fatalities in 24 hours.

At this writing, the 4:25 a.m. ET (0925 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 1,238,072 cases in Italy’s population of 60 million, with 46,464 fatalities. This level of the pathogen’s presence has caused Johns Hopkins to rank Italy as ninth in the world for caseload and sixth in the world for COVID-19 deaths.

Below is Tuesday’s announcement program about this year’s campaign (in Italian).

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Italian market is here. More from us on bookselling is here, more on children’s books is here, and more on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.