Two New Bookish Volunteering Ventures

Working from home, I don’t get out or see other people nearly often enough, so any time I think of a way that I can get more human interaction while contributing to a worthy cause – like spreading the love of reading – it’s worth seizing.

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but here in our town there are tons of empty storefronts on the main street and in the mall, which makes everything feel half-derelict. The Global Educational Trust was donated a shop space in my local mall and set up a free bookshop that has since been taken over by Fair Close Centre, a non-residential center where the elderly can socialize and take advantage of hot meals and other services. The shop creates awareness of Fair Close and what it has to offer, and also promotes reading and lifelong learning.

I volunteered late last year when it was first being set up, and for the past few weeks I’ve been putting in two hours every Friday afternoon. Did I mention it’s full of free books!? This is kind of a problem for someone who already has a house full of books plus boxes of them in storage back in America. (But not really a problem.) The first time I was there I scored eight books; on four subsequent visits I’ve both donated and acquired books, sometimes in unhelpful ratios. Seven given versus two taken: excellent! Two donated and nine acquired: not so good. Six out; three in: A-OK. This past Friday I broke even with four of each.

We’re making do with insufficient shelving, whatever we’ve been able to scrounge from going-out-of-business shops, etc., so the categories are not very precise yet. Most of my work so far has been rearranging the central area for fiction (someone thought it was a good idea to have the alphabetical sequence going across the four bays of shelves, rather than from top to bottom in one case and then on to the next one to the right, as is the custom in any library or bookstore!) and pulling out all the nonfiction that snuck in. You often see this in charity shops: people who don’t know much about books end up shelving memoirs, travel books and history in with the fiction. In this photo you can see evidence of my tidying in fiction, A–F.


The other project I’ve been working on lately, though it’s still very much in the planning stages, is a theological lending library at my church. This was prompted by me looking through our shelves of religion books and deciding that there were upwards of 20 books that we would likely never read again/ever but that others might find edifying. In the end I pulled out 36 books to donate, ranging in outlook from C.S. Lewis to Rob Bell. I’m also aware that my mother-in-law, who’s retiring from ministry this year, will likely shed many theology books when they downsize to leave the rectory, and there are various retired clergy members in our church who might have books to pass on. So I had a meeting with our vicar last week to talk through some ideas about where we might house a library and how the system might work.

For now we plan to trial a pop-up library in the cloisters in mid-July, advertised via the notice sheet in early June. In the weeks leading up to it, we’ll accept book donations to a box at the back of the church (and reserve the right to jettison books that seem dated or unhelpful!). The lending will be on an honesty system, with people writing their name and the book title(s) in a ledger. We’ll suggest that books borrowed at the pop-up in mid-July could be returned in early September, though keeping them out longer wouldn’t be a problem. Nor, for that matter, would it be a problem if some books never make it back to the shelves – we’d like to hope they’ll be helpful to people.

The only other equipment to get hold of now is a set of bookplates with the church logo. As to how to classify the books, I may well model our system on this one. I know I’ll have fun cataloguing the books and affixing spine labels and bookplates. It’ll be like my library assistant days all over again – except just the fun working-with-books bit and not the babysitting-students bit.


Are you involved in any volunteer projects?

16 responses

  1. That sounds fun, and the first project would be a great addition to any town. I still have children’s books at home showing my first days, and my daughter’s first days as librarians and custodians of our own collections, complete with date stamps.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds a perfect volunteering opportunity for you on so many levels! They are very fortunate to have your skills.
    Our local Yorkshire Dales Library is completely run by volunteers and has been for years – I work there one day a week.
    We also get the chance to go to the book stacks every few weeks to change and refresh our stock, far too tempting for someone who has a massive ‘to read’ book mountain!! Kid in a sweet shop comes to mind!
    I also volunteer at the World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden a few miles from me, so I get my history fix as well as a book one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely opportunity and a good use of empty retail space.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good work! I once re-organised the fiction section in a charity shop – it was so much harder physically than I expected, as the books were totally jumbled, so there was a lot of bending and lifting…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is definitely hard physical labour — luckily I only do two hours a week, so I can work flat out with my water bottle beside me and don’t generally need a break.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I sit on the improvement assoc. board of my little village and also volunteer a lot at my boys’ school–and did so at their school library, which was such fun! I was there with mostly third graders, who were nuts over the popular book series (Big Nate, Captain Underpants, etc.). And I did some re-shelving but nothing like what you’re doing. Fun, and for such good causes!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ahhh I love the theological lending library idea! I hope it’s a massive success 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What great ideas and well done for translating the ideas into action. I’m envious of those book finds though. Your Fair Close Centre seems to be packed with real gems 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Global Educational Trust bookshops is a fabulous idea. Just looked at their website but there aren’t any near me yet so have asked them what their plans are because I’d be keen to get involved. Thanks for putting this my way Rebecca

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good on you. I’m always moving books onto the right shelves in our local charity shop!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Bledwina Blighty Pudfish | Reply

    Slightly off topic, but is there a book which is always in every charity shop? Sort of a law of the universe thing…my money would be on one of the 50 Shades of Grey books…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For a while it was those and Dan Brown’s books. There are a couple of these at my free bookshop. We also have loads of duplicate copies of Maeve Binchy, Dorothy Koomson and Frank McCourt books. I gave a silent cheer last week when a security guard came in and took all our Robert Ludlums!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bledwina Blighty Pudfish

        Oh yes Dan Brown! I found Da Vinci Code absolutely hilarious!


  11. Lovely, two brilliant projects for which you are a huge asset!

    Liked by 1 person

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