It is an open secret that the Maltese are, generally, not a reading nation. The advent of television and subsequently social media only served to make the situation worse. Such trend normally manifests itself in poor command of the language, modest general knowledge, poor vocabulary and at time deficiencies in how to articulate arguments. Facebook or the online comments board in news portals are a showcase of these deficiencies.

Unfortunately, the situation seems to be getting worse. Last year the total number of books loaned by the Malta Libraries – a State entity which in 2011 took charge of all public libraries – decreased by 41% over 2019. Though this decline might be partly attributed to the restrictions imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, the increase in e-books (books in digital format which can be loaned over the internet without the need to go to the library) did not compensate for the drop.

It transpires that in 2020 the total amount of loaned books fell by 460,000 from 1,046,000 in 2019 to 618,000. On the other hand, eBooks rose from 14,000 to 46,000.

The data shows unequivocally that reading was a major victim of the pandemic. The drop is even more significant when considering that for many weeks people had much more time to spare when social activities were banned or restricted, but reading did not seem to be on their agenda.

Why is this happening? In reality, such trend is also being registered across the globe. These days the status of the book is being challenged by electronic gadgets, gaming consoles, television and social media. Compare that to the situation in the post-war years when books reigned supreme with very little distractions.

However, statistics should be taken with a degree of caution. While television undoubtedly dethroned reading, the advent of the internet brought a mixed bag. Apart from eBooks, internet is also used as an alternate source of information replacing the traditional encyclopaedia. Though the reliability of certain sources is questionable, the internet has made knowledge more accessible to the masses. The same applies for the migration between newsprint and portals. Waking up in the morning and reading the latest news on the mobile phone is a completely different ball game to having to go out of bed in the cold to buy the newspaper. Looking ahead the solution is to embrace technology as the outcome of a head-on collision will be a foregone conclusion.   

Reading can also have positive impacts on one’s health. Reading a good book, be it in the traditional manner or in a digital form, can be a stress reliever and help you relax.  Remembering characters, plots and history within a story, stimulates the brain to work and boosts memory retention skills.  This summer, consider reading a book to improve your health. Treat it as a relaxation technique. To keep your heart healthy, you may go for a run. In order to keep your brain healthy, it is essential to pick up a good book.