After three years, World Book Night U.S.—an effort to encourage adult literacy by giving away free books—will cease operations for the foreseeable future, due to lack of sustainable funding.
“After three years in which thousands and thousands of you distributed over a million and half specially printed World Book Night paperbacks across America, we are sad to announce that we are suspending operations,” the organization stated in a July 2 press release. “The expenses of running World Book Night U.S., even given the significant financial and time commitment from publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, printers, distributors, shippers…are too high to sustain.”
The concept of an international day of reading sprung from a round table discussion at London’s Book Industry Conference in May 2010. In 1995, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began celebrating a yearly event called World Book Day on April 23 (a day significant for world literature as the death or birth date of Cervantes, Shakespeare, and other prominent authors). World Book Night was first celebrated in the UK and Ireland in 2011; in 2012, it expanded to the USA and Germany.
This year, World Book Night U.S. organizers oversaw the distribution of half a million books. Some 25,000 volunteers signed up to hand out the books throughout their communities, and 2,330 U.S. bookstores and libraries signed up to act as a home base for registered givers to pick up the copies of their chosen title to hand out.
Givers weren’t the only ones to volunteer significant support for the effort. Publishers of the 30+ books chosen for annual distribution fronted the cost of printing World Book Night U.S. editions, while authors agreed to waive their royalties. Individual donations and several grant awards contributed financial support. But as the organization has explicitly stated: “We can’t carry on without significant, sustainable outside funding.”
For those who submitted entries to WBN’s inaugural essay contest, not to worry. The organization’s dedicated staff is staying on (unpaid) throughout the summer to judge the best essays by volunteer givers about their WBN experience. The 10 best citizen, bookseller and librarian giver essays will be designated as winners, with a grand prize winner from each category. Winning essays will be anthologized into a special WBN eBook. It is unclear whether World Book Night UK/Ireland will also be suspended. After one year of participation, Germany pulled out of World Book Night in 2013.
Monique Flasch, Reader Services Librarian at the Glenview Public Library (IL), told LJ, “I feel very sad. It is such a shame. It was such fun seeing people’s faces when they got a book. Many talked about how they never get anything for free.” After their experience handing out 60 free books at the nearby train station, Flasch and her colleagues were already talking about ideas for World Book Night 2015.
“It created a little reading community at the train platform. It was great knowing that we and a bunch of other avid readers were out there together on that day promoting the joys of reading.” Christopher Platt, a co-organizer for NYPL’s 2014 World Book Night events, said “I am sad to see World Book Night U.S. cease operations. Our 2014 kick-off event at our Schwarzman Library brought together authors, givers, and hundreds of book lovers to celebrate reading in a space so full that many had to be turned away at the door. I hope that libraries, bookstores, and book givers who participated in WBN U.S. will continue to keep that spirit alive each year on April 23rd.”
Sally Thomas and her team at Hayward Public Library used the World Book Night program to seed her “Book-to-Action” series, which pairs a book’s themes with targeted action in her community; for example, using Diffenbaugh’s novel The Language of Flowers to highlight local organizations’ work with the foster system, and books with nature themes to inspire a volunteer cleanup project at a local shoreline park. Thomas says that the library will continue to organize civic engagement activities associated with the Book-to-Action program, but that the demise of World Book Night is being felt as a real disappointment in a diverse reading community just starting to hit its stride.
“Book givers and book recipients alike experienced World Book Night as a true community-building event,” Thomas told LJ. “Like thousands of other volunteers across the country, we’re still holding onto the hope that it can make a comeback. To the World Book Night team: thank you for the tremendous gift you presented to so many readers in Hayward, California.”