Only 14% of the population are active book readers and a mere 5% of parents read to their children, according to the latest City statistics.
Further, nearly 60% of households do not own a leisure reading book.
National Book Week, from September 3 to 9, aimed to put more eyes on books and buck the trend of statistics that showed few South Africans were committed to reading, the City said.
It will culminate in the South African Book Fair from September 7 to 9 in Newtown, Johannesburg.
Celebrated annually, the initiative encourages South Africans to value reading as a fun and pleasurable activity and to showcase how reading can become part of daily life.
Mayco member for social services JP Smith said the shocking statistics were a stark reminder of the work to be done to improve the public’s relationship with books and their libraries.
“Apart from the great joy that comes with leisure reading, there is the equally important aspect of continued learning and the expansion of one’s worldview,” Smith said.
To improve literacy rates, children needed to develop a relationship with books early on, he added.
“I encourage parents to use our libraries as a starting point for guidance and advice on how to get their children hooked on books, but also for themselves.”
To mark National Book Week and the annual Open Book Festival, several city libraries are hosting special activities, including a memoir writing workshop at the Central Library, a natural heritage workshop at Ottery Library and a conversation with Jeremy Vearey at Elsies River Library.
There is also an opportunity for residents with overdue library materials to return these, fine free, for the week.
The City says there are more than 20 000 items including books, study guides and DVDs, long overdue at the City’s libraries, valued at around R2 million.
“We are making it easy for those who may feel a little embarrassed about returning items after such a long time.
“They can drop off the items at their nearest library, but there will also be drop boxes at 10 malls around the city where library staff will be on duty to ensure that material is returned to the correct library once received,” Smith said.
For more on the Open Book Festival programme, and on the location of drop boxes, visit http://openbookfestival.co.za/festival-programme/.