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.