A new initiative to encourage a reading culture in Tunisia has seen the emergence of taxi cab libraries. Taxi cab libraries are taxi cabs whose interior are dotted with books which are scattered about on the seats or line the dashboards of these cabs.
The books range from fat novels to psychology books, to even poetry books. Most of the taxi cab libraries in Tunisia carry a tag which is stuck on the side of the door that says; “Attention: This Taxi Contains a Book.”
That tagline comes from a literary initiative which was launched in October by an online book-sharing platform YallaRead (Come on, Read). YallaRead had collaborated with an Uber-style cab-hailing service, E-Taxi.
As a result of the collaboration, YallaRead puts books in a select number of cabs, thereby, giving passengers the opportunities to flip through a few pages while commuting.
Before they alight from the taxi cab libraries, the passengers are encouraged either by advertisements or the taxi driver to visit YallaRead’s website, find the book, and continue the story. It is both a unique literary initiative and a really good business boosting plan.
It works especially well because traffic jams are common enough in Tunis that you can read at least the first few paragraphs of a book in one trip, and a journey across the city would enable one cover an entire chapter.
Reading culture in Tunisia is low. Emrhod Consulting, a North African research institute that has done polling on readership, says that despite the literary history of the country, sustained readership in Tunisia is very low. According to them, 75% of households have no literary material aside from the Qur’an or newspapers, and only 18% of Tunisians bought a book in the past year.
Those are very poor statistics for a population where over 80% of the adult population is literate, and many Tunisians are fluent in both Arabic and French. The 24-year-old co-founder of YallaReads, Ahmed Hadhri, believes that the reading culture is poor because people are abandoning books to spend more time online, which is a cheaper option for them.
“Books in Tunisia are expensive and unavailable…There isn’t Amazon, and we don’t find a lot of books in bookshops—people are obliged to ask their friends abroad to make purchases.”
So far, YallaReads has placed books in Arabic, French, and English in five taxis, they are actively seeking funding and book donations so they can expand to all cabs in Tunis.