Children’s Book Council: Keeping up with the Times

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Noushin Ansari, University Professor, educator, and secretary general of Children’s Book Council of Iran | The Children’s Book Council, also known as IBBY Iran, was founded by a group of educators and artists in 1962. CBC joined the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) in 1964 and has acted as the National Section for Iran to date. I joined CBC a year after its start, and have greatly enjoyed this long association both as a member and as CBC’s Secretary General from 1979 to date.

It is with pride that I look upon its growth as a nationally respected NGO with more than one thousand members carrying on many different activities, with no government support, relying only on voluntary work, donations, workshops and royalties. As a librarian (MLS McGill 1968) I fully relate to CBC’s aims and objectives which are the promotion of quality literature, and bringing children and books together. When invited to write the lead for the iBulletin I felt honored and thought that it might be interesting to share some of our experiences during recent months when we have been faced with the challenges of the corona crisis.

What I guess surprised me most was the quick, almost natural reaction of colleagues to shift activities into virtual space. CBC’s book reviewing committees with some two hundred members in 19 groups studying Iran’s annual publication suddenly disappeared from the usual scene.

On the CBC premises no more crowds, no more heated discussions, no more hugs… I wasChildren’s Book Council Keeping up with the Times however assured that work was going on online! The committee’s report based on about one thousand books was recently posted on the CBC telegram channel, I must confess that reading the report at my pace was more rewarding than the usual oral presentation at the CBC Anniversary Celebration in March. While dwelling in the bibliographic world, a timely decision by colleagues was the posting of retrospective subject bibliographies on the telegram channel. In these grey times it was a good reminder of our paper book heritage, and a return to reading some of these quality works. The subjects included works on environment, discrimination, immigration, peace, disability, etc.

Another major CBC activity is the book launch of every new volume of the Encyclopedia for Young People (EYP) at its Anniversary Celebration. This year however volume nineteen did not get the chance for a standing ovation, but instead the good news was spread through social media.

When some forty years ago Touran Mirhadi, one of the main founders of CBC, proposed the compilation of EYP to the CBC EC, most of us wondered how we could tackle this monumental task! The basic questions were how an NGO working in such a small space, with no government support and faced with a weak infrastructure of school and public libraries, could succeed? Eventually she won by convincing us that the supportive hand of civic society should not be underestimated and this support would take us through as she said “an arduous mountain climb”.

Two recent documents are testimonies to her willpower and dedication. In a paperChildren’s Book Council Keeping up with the Times presented by Leila Maktabi-Fard at the 36th IBBY Congress in Athens, she drew a comparison between Yella Lepman, the founder of both IBBY and The International Youth Library (IYL) in Munich, with Touran Mirhadi as the founder of Farhad Education Complex and CBC, both deeply dedicated to the cause of providing quality literature for the younger generation.

Articles based on this paper are fortunately available both in English (Bookbird, 2019, vol.57, no.3: p. 34-41) and German (Julit, 2018, no.4: p.75-81). On another front the EYP is the subject of a documentary by Rakhshan Banietemad and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb called “Touran Khanom” portraying the last four years of her life as chief editor of EYP, fortunately available online. (www.eventive.org) With her family stepping in to provide full support, during the past months EYP offices were kept open and running. At the moment of the foreseen 26 volumes, volumes 20, 21 and 22 are in different stages of preparation. A second edition – with minor updates – of the ten first volumes is well underway and CBC is planning for the virtual launch of EYP in the near future.

On the reading promotion side, we gained invaluable experiences. It was quickly found out that many of the reading activities, particularly those carried out in small groups, could be handled online. This of course was a blessing for women and children deprived of library services.

We were greatly concerned about our Bamdad Program serving several schools in theChildren’s Book Council Keeping up with the Times Sistan Baluchistan Province, where many young people – mostly girls – made such good use of their libraries. And also by the fact that many do not have mobile phones to use any digital services. Colleagues moved fast to launch the Bamdad Audio Library program and the House to House book distribution service. We were seriously committed to our international responsibilities. When word came that CBC needed to send a copy of our nominated book to the Catalog of Outstanding Books for Disabled Young People contest, we were faced with strict corona flight restrictions; but a social media call brought a quick response. So the tactile (cloth) book by Samaneh Naderi, called Something’s Here! (Yek Chizi Injast!) inspired by Mowlavi/ Rumi’s famous parable of The Elephant in the Dark Room, made it to IBBY ‘s headquarters in Basel. Based on the electronic copy sent to Toronto Public Library (www.tpl.ca/Ibby), it was eventually selected to appear in the 2021 Catalogue! Another interesting development to be noted is the rising interest of woman in participating in CBC’s online workshops — for example on writing fiction and historical novels for young people. This is an interest and gained knowledge which will hopefully show its positive effects in the future.

Last but not least was my own first experience in addressing participants of CBC’s workshop on “Introduction to Children’s Literature” online! At first I was reluctant to accept, then I took the risk and spoke into my mobile phone for two whole hours! At the Q and A session I took questions from different parts of the country, and later I found out that some 130 participants had attended the session, a few even from outside Iran. This said, I must say that I missed the shiny eyes, the colorful scarves, the emotion-laden moments on both sides, the after-session chats, the expressions of readiness to help CBC in different ways, etc.

I guess many of the experiences gained during the corona period and during the lockdown are important and will change our ways of doing things.

But to sustain the vitality of an NGO, we greatly rely on direct eye-to-eye contact on the one hand, and on the other hand on the cultivation of the art of civic dedication at more personal levels.

As a family of Iranian cultural NGOs geared to the well-being of the young generation, we will indeed need to redefine our ways, review our principles and study our recently gained experiences to enter the post-corona period with the necessary incentive, knowledge and wisdom.

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