National Book Week, which runs from Monday 3 to Sunday 9 September, will see the City host its second fine-free week at its 104 libraries. In an attempt to recover the more than 20 000 overdue items, library members will have an opportunity to return items without having to pay any fine. “Currently, there are more than 20 000 items, including books, study guides and DVDs that are long overdue at the City’s libraries, valued at around R2 million,” says the City’s Mayoral Committee member for, among others, social services, JP Smith.“Staff are spending too many hours trying to track down patrons who checked out the items. This is time that could have been spent more productively on direct service delivery. Missing items also deprive others from enjoying them.”During the last Fine-Free Week earlier this year, 6 067 items valued at R283 000 were retrieved. During the week lost library cards will also be replaced at no cost to library users.“National Book Week aims to promote reading, which is a powerful tool in fighting poverty,” explains Smith. “Literacy and reading are at the heart of education, personal growth and development. Even when a child is encouraged to read for pleasure, it impacts on his educational achievements. Furthermore, he says unreturned items pose a huge challenge for the City’s libraries given budget constraints, making it difficult to ensure patrons have access to relevant, adequate and up-to-date collections.“While just one item may seem insignificant, it could be that one study guide that a student needs to pass, or the one book that will propel a child into a love of studying. I want to urge patrons to return library stock so that everyone has the opportunity to experience the joy of what they have to offer,” says Smith. National Book Week aims to mitigate the findings of a 2006 study, which was repeated in 2016, showing a disturbing increase in the number of households in South Africa that do not own a single leisure reading book – up from 51% in 2006 to 58% in 2016. Only 14% of the country’s population are committed readers.