The African Book Trust: Getting South African books into libraries


The African Book Trust’s aim is to have more South African books in libraries across the country, making local writing available to more people. Founder Griffin Shea tells us more about the project.

African Book Trust
Griffin Shea, founder of the African Book Trust, wants more South African books available in libraries. His passion for books is also shown in his store, Bridge Books in Joburg’s city centre. (Image supplied)

Priya Pitamber

The African Book Trust aims to expand the footprint of South African books. The idea is easy, yet effective. “We have a really simple mission: to give South African books to libraries across the country,” says Griffin Shea, founder of the trust.

“That could mean a community library, a school library – any library where the books are available to be read and shared.”

Right now, the trust is raising money for the first round of donations. If people want to get involved, there’ll be more information shared on the website, and social media platforms Facebook and Twitter.

People want South African books

Shea, who also owns the bookstore Bridge Books in Johannesburg’s city centre, is frequently contacted by people wanting to donate books, either to readers, book clubs or libraries.

“The African Book Trust sets up a system so that we provide a curated list of books to libraries that want them.”

The trust, he hopes, will create a virtuous cycle. “Buying more local books means we’re supporting local writers and publishers, so they can write and print more amazing books.
“And we’re expanding the number of readers, by making books as widely available as possible.”

African Book Trust
More South African books in libraries means there’ll be more opportunities for South African writers to have books published, says Griffin Shea, founder of the African Book Trust. Here’s Veronica Nyathi (background) who manages the Bridge Books website, with numerous South African titles. (Image supplied)

Nurturing a culture and love of reading

Shea describes getting a library card when he was a child as a huge moment: “One of the first milestones in life toward a degree of independence. How incredible is it to have a card that lets you borrow any book you want?”

Growing up in a small town in the US, it was through books that he found out about the rest of the world. He says it also developed his love for writing and travel, which eventually became his career: journalism.

From chatting to people who pass through his store, Shea has found that South Africans generally love to read, particularly adults in their 20s and 30s.

He says it is “unglamorous, logistical issues” that get in the way of promoting a culture of reading. “How do we physically get more books to readers? How do we find out what people want to read? How to we tell people about the great books that are out there? How do we set up a microcredit system so small booksellers can take chances on different kinds of books?”

Ongoing and future plans

The African Book Trust, says Shea, has been generously received. “I’m so fortunate to have a stellar board of trustees.”

There are already plans to launch a campaign, #5books, to help decide which books to donate next.

“We’ll be asking book lovers to choose the five South African books that everyone should be able to read,” he explains. “We’ll have a team go through the suggestions and whittle them down to the five best South African books.”

The next step is to raise enough money to be able to get all five books into libraries that want them.

“Eventually we’d like to build an endowment, so that we have more predictable finances and can guarantee a certain level of book buying from year to year. But baby steps!”

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