Saturday, November 12, 2011



Putting books into circulation is one thing that should be happening. We here at The Compost hope to see more of it. However, too often, we have them mouldering away on shelves, often either forgotten or attempting to afford some ornamental purpose.

Our world seems to be becoming an ever-more mobile and jet-setting one. It is clear that few of us are as able as we once might have been to retain a large library, much as we might love to.

We have to start seeing books in the same light that economists see money. That is, there is a large national or international amount which is in fluid supply. Occasionally, they are retained in one locality, but eventually they are released back into the stream from whence they came. Fabulous and important though money is, we're sure, knowledge, learning, information and entertainment: everything that books open to us, are of equal importance at least.

There are lots of internet-based innovations to facilitate this: book crossings, e-bay and trade-me, buying online and offline in the form of our beloved (and sadly increasingly rare) second-hand book shop…

Here is our model, which has been trialled in the past, and has been very worthwhile and effective indeed.

What ideally needs to be done, in terms of the steps and stages, is as follows (but not necessarily precisely as follows: personal variations will occur):

1. Acquire (by purchase or through donation) a heap of books of all genres and eras, with the widest range of appeal possible. The bottom line is that each work is complete, and there are no pages missing (such as the last page, or the page in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe where they discover the wardrobe’s secret). The books don’t need to be in pristine condition at all. Second-hand or 47th-hand books will be just as good; remember it is all about what the books say to us, for this is what makes books books. It is not what they look like. To have around 150 books at the outset is a good target.

2. Decide a target band of books (eg from 150 to 300) which you aim for. Having too many makes it too difficult to carry and store the collection, and too few may make the choice too narrow for the clientele. (If you have too many, you can swap two out for each one in: this will be fully explained in due course.)

3. Determine a venue and a time for the swap-meet. An hour is fine but make sure you specify the full time, otherwise you will get a rush at the start. Another thing is flexibility: our swaps alternated Saturday and Sunday month-about. This way people who couldn't make it on the one day in one month's meeting came on the other in the next.

4. Publish that time and place on the internet, and set up a blogspot or a wordpress information page for your swap. Email us, and we will link it here.

5. Create a name for you swap group (and feel free to affiliate it with The Compost site)

6. Create an inkable rubber stamp for the title page of each book, which actually serves two purposes. The first is to give a path of access to your blog/website and information about your group, as well as (which may seem an odd thing to do) damaging or defacing the book so as to make it worth less as a market item (to thwart those who seek to sell it somewhere else for financial gain, as we will explain later) and to make it worth what it should be as an item of cultural, educational and entertainment importance. Put our address on it too. Clients of your swap will know where to look to find details of the next one. Others who happen to get a book with you stamp in will also find out about your swap, and know where to go to take part in your swaps. If the book has drifted too far afield, there will be a link to this, our federal blog, on it so they can find one near them, should there be one. For this reason, it is wise to put our details on the inkable stamp (as well as yours). That way, people will find your swap, or the nearest to them, if the book has 'wandered'.

7. This is where the financial gain for your group comes in: have stickers for inside the front cover of advertising. Approach businesses to buy the stickers, pointing out they will be advertised permanently on the inside cover. Add an expiry date to the sticker, which is the date after which the sticker can be replaced by a new one, should the book come back into your posession, or that of another Compost book swap. The plus for the advertiser is that it may never come back into your posession. Also, it devalues the book commercially (not textually) so that it can remain swappable and be less saleable.

8. In so far as is feasible, have printed a handful of copies of our newspaper (when available) for clients who may be interested in what we do and what we offer.

9. You should find your swap will be popular, and if not, word of mouth will do the job. There will be a core group who will appreciate the chance to gossip about books and other stuff.

10. Tell us! We'll link it here.

Try this recipe in your town, and see how it goes. We've tried it in our non-native city of Daegu, and found it popular: it was a good chance for foreigners to swap books. Books could be found in any condition: rare, expensive, appealing... or not so.

YOU MIGHT WANT TO put the image below(or something like it) onto an inkable stamp:

And email us via


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