Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Books are for life - not just for Christmas

Well, as our childhood comics used to say: A Merry Christmas to all our readers...
We've been going flat out for a week to get as many books in place for Christmas as we could manage. First we went to the St Vincent de Paul's Christmas lunch on December 22. We had hoped to be able to spread out the books on a table at the side so people could come and help themselves. However, the planners had decided that the books should go on the serving table - after the dinner was finished. So rather than serving up books we were first press-ganged into serving the food! At last we got the books out onto the table and gave away around 100 books - including lots and lots of Miffy books which the Dutch publisher was kind enough to donate just before we left.
The following day we made our first delivery to the women's refuge in Gateshead. On Monday it was the turn of Skylight - part of Crisis . Here we brought the nice clean hardback novels which were left over from St Vincent de Paul as well as ESOL and maths teaching materials. The learning centre at Skylight is brilliant - there is so much people can learn there: literacy and numeracy, woodwork, bike fixing, car mechanics, art and creative writing to name but a few. And of course there is a computer lab and people who advise on housing, benefits and other problems.
Next we brought some Miffy books and French books to Women's Aid Newcastle to be sure there were enough new books for Christmas presents for the children and reading matter for some French-speaking African women living there. Since we were in the area we delivered a cargo of disposable nappies, women's hygiene products, disposable razors and shaving cream to Common Ground, who help needy families in the east of Newcastle. These items are essential basics which are donated far less often than the more obvious clothes and household linen.
On Christmas Day we went down to Sunderland YMCA to bring books for the youngsters living there. 'Books?' they said when I told them what I had brought... 'Yes, books, give them a try!'
Then back to Skylight to bring a handful of mandala books for the art department and to have a nice cuppa tea. It was great to see they had already put up a bookshelf in the hallway with a big sign saying Free Books - help yourself. (see above. I would have put the photo here if I knew how...)
One woman came up to me as I was leaving to say thanks for the books 'this is so great - I live for books'
Just what I need to hear!

Makes me wonder why I waste my time trying to make this work in the Netherlands - except that I know there are some people there who also 'live for books' and I hate to let them down, but I can't (and won't) do it by myself any more.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Hmmm, a long time since the last missive... not that nothing's been happening. Too much happening. And finally I put on the website that for the moment we are not taking donations of 2nd hand books. - Last week we received 60 boxes of brand new books from the Arbeiderspers. Wonderful! This is from a group of top publishers who are not in favour of pulping. Once a year for the past 3 or 4 years, they donate to us all the books that were not sold to the staff. We're talking classy Dutch literature! A wonderful gift, real quality. This compared to the people who lure us to drive 20 miles in the rain to take posession of their treasure which turns out to be 6 not 3 boxes of mouldy out of date textbooks most of which I had to throw out to prevent the mould spreading... - that is uncommon but has happened... Instead of feeling grateful I just felt I was being used to remove someone else's trash. Not a pleasant mood.

I think it has something to do with the fact that 'people' imagine that if a thing is free then it must be old or broken or dirty. That is why I have always gone to some lengths to make our workspaces clean, light, neat and welcoming and why I have always designed neat flyers and cards and other stationery. I've also done my best not to offer old, dirty broken books to people who come to us for books. Those I have tried to put aside and save for the illusive art projects... Yes because of course, as well as BookSpaces I want studio spaces where we can play with broken books and build furniture out of them and give them a new incarnation.

In the meantime, today I have more or less asked someone NOT to give us books but to pass on the message that we need people, not books. Really not books. People with enthusiasm and creativity and networks and ideas and connections and compassion... and just a little time and just a little space.

And the best thing of today was a gift of 3 large boxes of English languages books and videos of Miffy (Nijntje). Fantastic! Right on time for Christmas in England where we will be seeking out new organizations and delivering packages to several we have already been in contact with... not forgetting our teenage friends in Sunderland, for whom we have put together a great collection of fiction and non fiction.

Who knows, I might even bake a mince pie or two... it seems so long since I did any creative cookery. Yum!!
The website has been update in semi-festive style.

Friday, 23 November 2007

What a difference a day makes

After all the difficulties earlier in the week, on Thursday we went with a fully-laden car to Groningen. First, the sun was shining and the traffic flowed smoothly. No time to stop and stare... or take photos, but nonetheless a very pleasant drive.
Arrived at our destination right on time and without getting lost (whoopee!). Inlia is an organisation which cares for asylum applicants who do not (yet) have independent housing. Once a month they hold an open day where other low-income families from the city can come in for food-parcels, free clothing and now free books. No-one there was sure whether there would be much interest in books - I am permanently optimistic! They were surprised and delighted by the response. We must have taken around 1500 books and have left them all behind. Now other local organisations will be invited to come to find books for their clients and we hope that this will become a permanent fact of life in Groningen. This particular shelter is in a former nunnery and it did seem an appropriate place for things to go right.
Later I went to stay with a good friend now living in Friesland. Lovely to have time to catch up and then take a walk round the village in the morning. The fact that she has written such a very nice blog of her own today just added to the great day! (you need to read Dutch for that one)

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Spot the difference

Hmmm, three days back in the Netherlands and what do we get? One organisation which requested childrens books for their Christmas party tells us around midnight on Monday that the party is on Saturday (24 November!) and will we deliver the books. I ask why they didn't tell me the date before now and explain that I cannot deliver - but that they can come to Leiden to pick up the books.
They reply that they will give the books at Christmas or New Year instead and will we deliver the books.
It is really hard for me to understand why people have to be so amazingly uncooperative: it is fine for me to drive 25 miles to deliver books but impossible for them to drive 25 miles to pick them up. I say I'll send them with a parcel delivery service.

Next, I am told that we are going to have to move our bookspace again by December 1 - which is ludicrous. We moved in in September on the understanding that we could take over the lease... It appears to be impossible to keep the space (bah humbug) but we will try to move the date because 10 days notice is simply not possible.
Of course I suspect foul play...
So we have to find another space. Perhaps, maybe, possibly we can move back to the original place we were going to work from on a temporary basis - up til February. We will try to sort that out this week.

I have to say I am reaching the point where I would prefer to shut down the Dutch operation all together; the amount of support we get is almost nil and after all these years we seem to have made so little progress... Of course we more or less 'lost' two years with the Utrecht fiasco - as well as a few thousand euros. The energy and time that has been wasted this year with moving and rebuilding and moving stock round and back and forth is just plain ridiculous. That time should have been spent moving books out to people!

A volunteer who came specially to help with preparation of deliveries for Groningen suddenly went AWOL. She pleads 'too many books'....
This is the second person who stopped after one session saying it's all too much, do it yourself.
Makes me wonder why they come in the first place.

Well, tomorrow off to Groningen with a car loaded down with around 1000 books. - If we could find a few more cities who would deal with that volume we could really get the show on the road.
We will see.

The one very bright spot in these three days has been the news that a family from Georgia, who have been waiting several years for their asylum applications to be approved have got their papers under the 'General Pardon'. This is really good to hear as it has been an awful period of uncertainty for them. And to top it off, they will have a new baby next month, so things are truly looking up for them. Several years ago we took a big selection of Russian books for them to choose from and have remained in contact ever since.

You see, it's not just about the books, it's about the people who enjoy the books. The books become a way in to see what other things people need or dream of and who knows, perhaps we can help in more ways than we thought.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

As weeks go this has been a productive one.
After the books to the prisons, the West End Refugee Centre in Newcastle and to Newcastle Womens Aid we were about 500 books lighter.
We're hoping that the Co-Op will help the refugee centre with nappies and 'womens hygeine products' I think they are politely called. They are at least now in direct contact and asking sensible questions.
Back in Leiden a new volunteer turned up. That's good timing as we have to get a shipment of books together for the children looked after by Vluchtelingenwerk (similar to the Refugee Council) somewhere in the south of the Netherlands. Last year we sent them a big load of books and made some nice bookplates so the children could choose one and write their name in their book.
Next new venture is to take books to Groningen for the monthly 'market' at the old convent where a number of refugees are living. Once a month local low-income families come by to get food packets and free clothes. This time they can get free books as well and if that's a success we can do it regularly.
Since Newcastle and Groningen are twin towns we have wanted to build up contacts in both cities and hope that we can somehow use that twinning concept to help organisations on both sides of the water.

More another time. It is far too late but I just squashed a week's work into a day as I am back to the UK tomorrow.

The daughter of a dear friend started chemo today and is mourning the end of breast-feeding her son of 9 months old. Hard to think I used to babysit this brave woman when she was smaller than her little boy is now.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

News from Newcastle

This morning I went to an assignment in the Park and Ride near Durham. Anyone would have thought I was selling dodgy passports or something. In fact I was meeting the librarians from one of the Durham prisons. This arrangement was less complicated than arranging for me to come to the prison itself and - since the rain stayed away until we were finished - it worked very well. They were really delighted to receive approximately 300 books in 12 different languages. There is quite a percentage of people in prison for whom English is not their first language, so being able to offer a good range of languages is good for all concerned.
We also brought a few books specifically for the women's prison and next time will bring more self-help psychology books as they are trying to encourage people to understand their problems rather than just drugging them up to keep them passive.
In Amsterdam we recently met a group who do yoga with prisoners, so perhaps I should see if they are able to come here as well.

Newcastle Women's Aid, to whom we have given books in the past are enthusiastic about receiving more regular donations.
The West End Refugee Service was pleased to be offered (new) childrens books for their 'festive week' packages. So we will deliver those next week. They work hard to support destitute families, giving them food packages and 'pocket money' to the best of their abilities. Of course young women with babies have extra expenses which older mothers don't have to contend with - a supply of nappies and sanitary napkins. These items are rarely donated - being less obvious requirements and perhaps less romantic than clothes and other items.
So I am seeing which of the local supermarkets or other businesses might be prepared to donate some of these things, or at least give a generous discount for a bulk purchase.
Whoever comes up trumps will be loudly praised in a forthcoming blog!

Tomorrow is another day.... oh no it's not - tomorrow is today already!

Monday, 29 October 2007

So... I have decided to begin what I swore I wouldn't do. But using this form of diary of what has been happening as far as the comings and goings of the Borderline Books may help me to keep things straight.

Today I collected around 100 books from United Airlines. Mainly in English with a couple in Dutch and German - and a single gem. Chinese - so hard to find and so very much sought after.

Then packed up 7 boxes of children's books to be collected at the end of the afternoon. A few days ago a friend alerted me to the fact that a young woman was taking part in 'Heel Holland Helpt'. A sort of Oprah rip-off on the concept of paying it forward. Several people were given 1000 yuris and had to do something creative with it in seven days. This particular young woman wanted to surprise a foundation in the Curacao with a huge gift of clothes, books, school equipment and other items for disadvantaged children in the Nederlands Antilles.
Nice initiative, but in some ways a pity it had to be done with so much haste. I can only hope that she will be able to send more things another time. We have loads of books available which could be a big help in Suriname and the Antilles - but Borderline Books doesn't have the staff or funding to go shipping books all around the world ourselves.

My concentration has always been on the fact that people find it so much easier to 'help' people a long way away. It's so easy to give money to some disaster fund and feel good. But how about the neighbours? Yes, we'll support building a school in Africa - but don't ask us to help that African refugee family that just escaped a war...

At the same time, anyone who comes to us to get books to send overseas will be given whatever suitable books we have.


And the UK. Just off on another trip to bring books to the Durham prison service and to check out what the various organisations are planning for the 'festive week' in December. We are already taking a good supply of childrens books (new) and hope to be able to take more next time. We recently suggested to the British School near The Hague that their pupils might like to donate the books they are finished with so we can give them to refugee children.

what would I have done if someone had just given me 1000 yuris? Hard to say really since what I need most is something I can't buy - people! People who get the point of giving free books (but don't want to run off with my idea and profit from it as has just recently happened.) Maybe more of that fiasco another day.