When Burlingame librarian Amy Pellman heard about World Book Night (WBN), a new annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books, on goodreads, a social networking website for readers, she knew she wanted to participate in some meaningful way.
She enlisted fellow Burlingame librarian Jan Eustis, and together they came up with a plan to distribute free books to students at Gateway Community School, a county high school program based in San Mateo for students who require a transition program after incarceration or have been referred by their home district due to expulsion or other serious reasons.
On April 23, 2012, World Book Night (WBN), they joined with 25,000 volunteers across the United Sates to give away a total of 500,000 free books consisting of 30 specially chosen titles and printed editions.
WBN is a collaboration of booksellers, publishers, authors, printers, distributors, and librarians. April 23 is the UNESCO International Day of the Book, chosen in honor of Shakespeare and Cervantes, who both died on April 23, 1616. (It is also the anniversary of Shakespeare's birthday.) In the Catalan region of Spain, the day is celebrated by giving a book and a flower to a loved one.
This was the first year for World Book Night in the U.S. It began a year ago in Scotland and expanded this year to the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany. Book publishers printed special free “World Book Night” editions of popular books, some for young adults and some for adult readers. All the volunteers got to choose which book they wanted to distribute from a list of 30 titles.
“These were excellent titles,” noted Eustis, “not a dog among them ... all critically acclaimed books.”
Eustis and Pellman each picked two of their favorites. Eustis’ pick was "My Sister’s Keeper" by Jodi Picoult and Pellman chose "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie.
They picked up their free copies at Books Inc. in Burlingame, which was the local distributor for World Book Night.
Other volunteers also picked up books at Books Inc. to distribute in the community. Some chose to give their books to co-workers who might not be readers, or to hand them out along with granola bars and oranges to homeless people on the street.
“After all, books are food for the soul,” said Eustis.
Pellman chose to do a more structured give-away by making the connection with Gateway School. She had recently donated three boxes of used books from the Burlingame Library to Gateway, and the teachers and students had been quite grateful, so she thought it would be a good fit.
Pellman and Eustis, armed with the free books, gave a brief presentation about each of the books during “morning circle” at the school, saying just enough to pique the interest of the 40 students, mostly young men ages 14-17. Then they distributed the free copies.
Unlike other book promotional activities, WBN is geared strictly toward adults and young adults who might be reluctant readers.
“Many, many other wonderful programs already exist to get books to elementary-age children,” according to the FAQ on the WBN website. “The goal of World Book Night is to seek out reluctant adult readers wherever they are, in towns and cities, in public settings or in places from nursing homes to food pantries, low-income schools to mass transit.”
Pellman and Eustis were delighted to participate as volunteers this year and will most likely sign up again next year as will Earle Peterson, the store manager of Books Inc. in Burlingame. He’s already planning on signing up the store once again to be a distribution center, and thinking ahead to publicize WBN more broadly next year. He’s also planning on encouraging more volunteers and hosting a party at the store for the book-giver volunteers.
Want to join the army of WBN volunteers? Stay tuned by checking the WBN website for their newsletter to apply to become a book giver in Burlingame for next year’s event.