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Guest post – Who says books are out of fashion?

Book shelf

Books for London recently undertook a ‘book crawl’ across London to release CollectConnect’s Freedbook. Freelance journalist Diana Vollmerhausen wrote the following article on the crawl and Books for London, and has very kindly let us repost it here.

If you believe that the likes of Kindles and Kobos are going to spell the end of the old-fashioned paperback, think again. Book swaps are the latest trend. There is one at my local Homebase in Acton, the Rockett pub on Churchfield Road has got one and, in July, a bookshelf appeared in Acton Central station.

In fact, book swaps are popping up all over London, as I learned last Saturday when I went along to a stop on the “book crawl” at Acton Central, organised by Books for London. They are running a book sharing scheme in the capital’s train stations to turn London into a capital of literacy! According to the charity, some 13 million books are sent to UK landfills every year. As the campaign points out, with increasing pressure on landfill sites, it’s just not sustainable. In any case, for most avid readers, throwing a book in the rubbish would pretty much equate to a criminal offense.

“We want to keep books in circulation” says Chris Gilson, the campaign’s founder, “and combine people power with something that most people do in London every day – use the tube and trains.”

The scheme is run by volunteers who regularly check and tidy up the bookshelf, but other than that, it looks after itself and is entirely self-policing. After an initial stash of books is supplied by the campaign, people either return the same book they’ve taken, or swap it for a different book they no longer want.

Sara Nathan, who started the book swap in Acton says “we’ve not had any major problems. The local community are really behind it and they look after it just as much as I do. I get emails from residents and commuters regularly telling me how much they appreciate the book swap and how it has brought a real sense of community back into Acton.”

The Acton book swap seems to offer a fairly good selection too. I spotted several popular fiction titles and the “factual” shelf was brimming with autobiographies and travel writing. “The other week a recent divorcee donated an entire collection of English Literature, which was very popular. We get a lot of poetry. That always disappears very quickly, I guess it’s easy for people to dip in and out of on the way to work” says Sara. Some of the more weird and wonderful literature on offer includes a pile of “Psychology Roundup” from 1964 in German, which may well not escape the landfill site.

Books for London has already spread across the capital. There are bookshelves in West Ealing, Charlton, Cheam, Enfield Chase, Kingston, Northfields, Rayne’s Park and Wimbledon.”

The campaign is now hoping to roll out book swaps in tube stations too and have been in negotiations with TFL for a year now, but it’s very slow progress. “Mostly the problems are around health and safety” says Chris. “For example they don’t want bookshelves made from wood because of fire hazards and the shelves have to be bolted to the wall so they can’t be used as weapons, the list goes on. So we are not sure if or when it’s going to happen.”

I for one think it’s a great idea, and hope that TFL won’t let its fear of shelf wielding hooligans and book-loathing arsonists get in the way. David Cranston, Customer Host at Acton Central Station agrees with me.

“The station staff all think it’s a brilliant idea. The customers are always commenting, asking what the book swap is all about, how it works, etc. They like it. People are browsing and are actually talking to each other. It has made the station a better place.”

“A Kindle? Nah, the spirit of books can never be replaced.” Well said, David.

Check our Diana’s website at http://dianavollmerhausen.com/, and follow her on Twitter at @Diana_VB.

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