Tuesday, 8 May 2012

"It's better to give than receive" - my experiences of being a World Book Night giver 2012

World Book Night 2012 took place on Monday 23 April 2012 for the second year running. Read on to find out more about what it involves and my own experiences.....

What is WBN?
The aim of this initiative is to share the joys of reading to non or light readers or those who can't afford to buy books. The whole event is a one day giveaway of free books. Its all built around a very simple idea and action - personally passing on a book to someone and thereby sharing the joys of reading and books.

It is all made possible by publishers funding the cost of printing 480,000 books to be given away for free. Just as importantly it relies on the enthusiasm of over 20,000 volunteers putting their names forward to give away one chosen book title (from a selected list).

'Free'? You said 'Free'? Really??

This all sounds like both a mad and brilliant idea......
.....who gives anything away for free anyone? what's the catch?

Why WBN is needed? The context

The fact is there is no catch - the books really are free to give away and for the most praiseworthy of reasons. As highlighted by the press and research, the UK is facing a literacy 'crisis' where one in six people struggle to read or write (source: "Literacy: State of the Nation"). At the same time, adults engaging in literary activity is at all time low where a third of people have not bought a book in the previous 12 months and 34% never read (source: "Book Marketing Limited Study 2005").

People who don't read for whatever reason are potentially putting themselves at a disadvantage in life in terms of their health, well-being, employability and confidence.

Statistics from the National Literacy Trust give food for thought:
  • 22% of men and 30% of women with literacy below entry level 2 live in non-working households
  • 63% of men and 75% of women with very low literacy skills have never received a promotion at work
  • Individuals with poor basic skills are much more likely to report being ‘not at all’ interested in politics (42% for men and 50% of women with poor basic skills compared with 17% for men and 21% for women with good basic skills)
  • Women with low literacy skills are five times more likely than those with average or good literacy skills to be depressed.
In this context, World Book Night is an inspiring iniative which was great to be part of.

How WBN works in practice

An esteemed panel, led by author Tracey Chevalier initially chose a range of 25 book titles to be produced as special WBN editions in 2012. People were then invited to volunteer to give away 24 copies of one title from this selection.

With more applications to be givers, you have to justify where and to whom you intend to pass on the books - this is to ensure that you act in the spirit of the initiative and don't just take the easy option and give them to friends or big readers. I am pleased to say that my application succeeded and about a week before WBN, I proudly collected my chosen book title - "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho from my selected pick up point.

Why give away "The Alchemist"?

Paulo Coelho, who is a Brazilian author likens giving away a book as an expression of the soul. For me this was the essence of why I chose to give away this one title - since it is a thought provoking, uplifting story.

Watch here what Paulo Coelho says about the importance of World Book Night -

My experiences: 1. It's not easy

Passing on books is like sharing a fine wine (or like a flower according to Coelho) which you want to be enjoyed and savoured.

However, it's not as easy as it looks. In my experience, the organisations I initially contacted were very sceptical about the whole idea. (Why are there so many doubting Thomas's, I wonder? Also, I didn't even consider handing out the books in the street - my local area is not high falutin' and I would have felt very exposed).

One idea which I thought might be a great match to WBN aims was to give the books to a local housing association given that people living in social housing accommodation might have less immediate resources available to buy books. (I guess there is some logic there!) Disappointingly, however, the organisation weren't that keen, maybe because they thought it was a sales pitch or because they didn't know where to store the items. (Who knows?). Based on this experience, I think organisations need to be 'warmed up' to the idea a few months in advance and you definitely need a plan of 'attack', so to speak.

My experiences: 2. Finding a suitable home

Changing my approach and undaunted, I then contacted the Enfield Women's Centre, and started my conversation with the immortal words 'Do you love reading?'. I spoke to the wonderfully engaging co-ordinator, who mercy of mercies knew about WBN (they had been the recipients of books last year) and were more than happy to take hold of the copies. I think this is actually an excellent destination for the books given the group's purpose in increasing empowerment, improving mental wellbeing and combating social isolation.

My observations about WBN 2012 and suggestions for future

Compared to 2011 (when I was chosen as a giver but due to logistical problems never received my chosen book titles), the 2012 event was much better organised. For instance, it centred around an improved website with resources and frequently asked questions about the event. I also particularly liked the personalised bookplate with the giver's name, source of the book and a unique reference code to track its travels as it is passed on and read in the future.

In terms of improvements, I'd definitely suggest more advice on how to win over sceptical organisations such as a top tips guide to giving away books based on others positive (and negative) experiences.

I actually think that the WBN giveaway will gain more momentum and interest if there are periodic ongoing events or reminders about the initiative throughout the rest of the year by engaging with pre-identified organisations and finding ways to get them to think WBN is in their organisational interest and they can't do without it. In this way the impetus behind the event won't be lost amid other media, cultural and news agendas.

Despite some minor frustrations, I'm more than ever encouraged to take part next year and pass on the joy of reading to local people in N9.

And finally here's to a brighter future and less scepticism in the world! That's the personal message that the copies of 'The Alchemist' I've had the pleasure to give away will take with them on their journeys into people's lives.

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