Last week I wrote a Monday Musings about bookselling for/by charities. As I was writing it, I realised that there was another way of acquiring books that is worth writing about – book swap arrangements. Not surprisingly, it came up in comments on that post, so is clearly something of interest to many readers. It’s an area that I’m aware of – how could you not be – but not one I use with any regularity, so I’ve enjoyed researching it beyond my limited knowledge. I’m sure commenters will add even more information, for which I thank you in advance!
Book swapping as an informal activity is practised by most readers in some form or another. We share books – sometimes lending them to be returned, other times asking for the book to be passed on. It may not always be exactly one-to-one, but something more informal where we press loved books on each other as we read them. A little bit more formal is that practice in places like youth hostels where travellers leave a book behind that they’ve read, in a communal bookcase, and take one in its place. I still have a book that I picked up that way back in the 1970s. It’s Mordecai Richler’s Shovelling trouble. I love it – and the memories it carries.
In other words, book swapping as I’m describing it here is a pretty loose activity. It happens in multitudinous ways, ranging from the highly informal to the very controlled, from sharing books locally (in just a street, for example) to sharing across and between nations. Some swapping is simply about ensuring we always have something to read – what I’d call reader-to-reader sharing – while other schemes have bigger literary and social justice goals. These aims and styles aren’t always mutually exclusive, but the emphasis tends to fall more into one camp than another, if that makes sense. The activities I list here all fall into the somewhat organised end of the spectrum.
BookCrossing is the first big “organised” system that I came across – and that was back in the early 2000s when I found a book in my workplace cafe. Wikipedia describes it as “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” It started in the USA but has become a huge international community, supported by a website and social media platforms.
Australia is 7th on the list of the world’s top 10 bookcrossing country according to the BookCrossing website, which is not bad given our size (unless that was measured per capita). (If you are interested, the top three countries are USA, Germany, United Kingdom.) I won’t say more about this, but if you’ve never heard of it do check out their website. It’s rather fun to see the list of recently released, recently caught, most travelled and most wished for books. I loved seeing, when I checked, that the top book in “the most wished for” list was Markus Zusak’s The book thief (my review).
The Great Book Swap
Coordinated by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, the Great Book Swap is a very different kettle of fish. Its aim is to raise money for the Foundation. The idea is for organisations – workplaces, schools, any group at all – to host a book swap, which this year was on Wednesday 6 September. (But, really, you could do it any time. The ILF won’t reject your money). The principle is that people swap books for a gold coin donation. That is, participants bring a book (or books along) and for the right to take a book or book/s away, pay a gold coin donation. So, you get a book to read and the Foundation gets some money. In 2016, the ILF raised $160,000. The money is used to buy books to send to remote indigenous communities.
ILF Ambassador, children’s author Andy Griffiths, describes it thus:
The Great Book Swap is a win-win. Not only does it help raise money to improve literacy levels in remote communities, but the excitement and fun…helps improve literacy levels in your community or organisation…
The Little Big Book Swap
Another literacy focused event is the Little Big Book Swap run by The Little Big Book Club at Raising Literacy Australia. It runs along the same lines as the Great Book Swap, with money going “to support literacy programs and resources for SA families”. Raising Literacy Australia seems to be an Australia-wide organisation, with its vision being “Enriching Australian lives and building communities through literacy”, but this Little Big Book Swap, currently anyhow, says the money is for South Australian families. Hmm … maybe this is just a start of a program they plan to expand.
Street Libraries/Little Free Libraries
You’ve all heard, I’m sure, about street libraries. They are neighborhood book exchanges where passers-by can take a book to read or leave a book for others to find. The Little Free Library is one manifestation of these. It started in the USA in 2009. According to Wikipedia, there were 50,000 registered libraries world-wide. I bet there are many more that are not registered. In Australia, we have an organisation called streetlibrary.org.au . I love their description of what they do:
Street Libraries are a beautiful home for books, planted in your front yard. They are accessible from the street, and are an invitation to share the joys of reading with your neighbours.
Street Libraries are a window into the mind of a community; books come and go; no-one needs to check them in or out. People can simply reach in and take what interests them; when they are done, they can return them to the Street Library network, or pass them on to friends.
If anyone has a book or two that they think others would enjoy, they can just pop it into any Street Library they happen to be walking past.
They are a symbol of trust and hope – a tiny vestibule of literary happiness.
“A tiny vestibule of literary happiness”. I mean, what more could you want? You can register your library on the site, which enables others to find you. You can build your own little library, or you can buy a kit from the website. According to the website, there are 9 in my city. (I should have gone out and photographed one today, shouldn’t I?) The one closest to me is Books for the World (and it just so happens that one of my ACT-litblogger mentees is involved in it!) Another is the Mighty Fine Book Swap in Brisbane. Click on these links to see gorgeous pics, and read about them.
These are some of the “big” initiatives, but I know there are all sorts of book swap arrangements around (including the hostel ones I mentioned in my introduction). Commenter Jeanne on last week’s Monday Musings wrote that
Recently Mildura Library has started a new venture: provide a book swap at Mildura Airport: http://milduraairport.com.au/books-on-the-fly/. Are there any other airports that have something similar?
Are there? Anyhow, what a lovely initiative. It’s called, delightfully, Books on the Fly. Being a small regional airport, Mildura Airport does not, I’m guessing, have a bookshop in the terminal, so this provides a lovely service for air-travellers.
Do you use – or contribute to – any book swap arrangements? I’d love to hear about them, whether or not I’ve mentioned them here already.