6,000 Books Distributed for Free in London’s Urban Landscape

The Free Books Campaign makes reading accessible to all.

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World Book Day, April 23, 2023, is an annual event organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization to promote reading, publishing, and copyright.  

As a child, cultural historian and researcher Sofia Akel found refuge in her local library, "the library near the East London estate where I grew up was where I was able to nurture my mind as a child," she told the BBC

Akel soon realized that not everyone had such easy access to books, and many couldn't afford them. So she founded the Free Books Campaign, a non-profit organization that aims to provide books by authors of color to those who cannot afford them. "Since launching in 2020, we have donated 6,000 books to people across the UK and Ireland," she said.

The company is funded by donations, and anyone can request a book they would like to read. If the campaign has sufficient funds, they will purchase and deliver the requested book.

Akel believes that "reading should be something that everyone is able to participate in, the same way that most people would hopefully agree that education shouldn't be a privilege." Without the library, “my worldview, my imagination, and my vocabulary would have been significantly reduced," she continued.

Targeting Adults
Unlike most free reading initiatives, Free Books Campaign targets adults of color as its recipients, choosing to gift books by authors of color in particular. In its third year of operation, the Campaign held a Free Books festival in Peckham, south-east London in cooperation with Broccoli Productions, a media production company. Over a weekend, according to the BBC, they gave away about 3,000 books.

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One such participant, Estelle, a biochemistry graduate, accompanied her friends to the festival."It's important events like this exist," the 22-year-old told the BBC. "With the cost of living crisis at the moment, when I do have extra money, I would rather put it towards something else. And even though I love reading, I wouldn't be spending my money on books as it wouldn't be that high on my priorities list. But with events like this, it means I'm still able to enjoy my passion for reading and finding new books."

When asked about her book selections, Estelle replied that she had chosen, "XX by Angela Chadwick. That one sort of had a science link. And I chose Good Intentions by Kasim Ali. He was actually at the event and I got my book signed. I've never met an author in person before of a book that I've read, so that was very exciting."

The Marcus Rashford Book Club
Another UK initiative is the Marcus Rashford Book Club, founded by Footballer Marcus Rashford. Rashford's debut children's book, The Breakfast Club Adventures: The Beast Beyond the Fence, will be gifted to 50,000 children this summer, The Guardian reports.

In collaboration with Macmillan Children's Books, KPMG, and The National Literacy Trust, Rashford’s Book Club plans to distribute the book among primary school children in the UK's most economically deprived areas.

The book is co-written by Alex Falase-Koya and illustrated by Marta Kissi. Rashford explained that the book club aims to "get the right books in the hands of children who have very limited access to them" and to help them "find the joy in reading" and an escape from challenging environments.

Less Funding for Libraries
According to recent data, it appears that accessing books at a library has become increasingly challenging. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), suggests that library book stocks decreased by 11 percent across England, Wales and Scotland between 2021 and 2022.

In the US, an initiative to defund public libraries was passed by the Missouri state legislature in a drastic budget proposal that has magnified the accelerating state-level campaigns against libraries over books and materials with LGBT+ people and themes, reported The Independent.

“Every day professional librarians sit down with parents to thoughtfully determine what reading material is best suited for their children’s needs,” American Librarian Association president Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada told The Independent. “Our nation cannot afford to lose the library workers who lift up their communities and safeguard our First Amendment freedom to read.”

Now more than ever, initiatives that promote free books for the underprivileged are making a huge difference in the lives of many people around the world.

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