Pass It On Belfast Encourages New Readers

The book sharing programme – initially started as a waste reduction scheme – has expanded to venues across the city

The idea of tossing a book in the bin can feel like a kind of literary blasphemy. Yet what else can you do when the shelves start to groan and none of your friends want to take your collection of books on Yorkshire trains through the 1970s off your hands?

Belfast City Council and the Crescent Arts Centre have come up with a solution: Pass It On. It's not a new concept – book sharing schemes have been in vogue for some time now – but that's not to say it isn't popular.

After initiating a pilot scheme, Naomi Palmer of BCC’s Waste Management Service was excited by the response. ‘Every week when I went down to check on it, there were new books,’ Palmer recalls. ‘It might have been a novel or a reference book on gardening, but there was always something.’

Interestingly, Palmer came at the idea from a waste management angle, rather than a literacy one. ‘We are constantly looking for ideas on how to reduce, reuse and recycle,’ she says. ‘The book swap idea is about reusing. We want to encourage people to think of their waste as a resource, not just as something they need to get rid of.’

When Palmer decided to expand the project, the Crescent Arts Centre seemed like the perfect base from which to operate: somewhere where bibliophiles could drop off books and collect others. Not only is the Crescent a well-known and popular arts venue, it is also the HQ of the Belfast Book Festival.

A few months down the line and Pass It On has seven venues signed up and 133 likes on Facebook. ‘We’ve been inundated with emails,’ says Crescent Arts Centre Outreach officer, Ann McCall. ‘There’s been so much interest. It’s such a simple idea, but so effective. And the venues get starter books, stamps and free publicity from inclusion on our website for taking part.’

All you have to do to Pass It On is read a book, take that book to a participating location to be stamped and then swap it for a different book. In the Crescent Arts Centre, a bookshelf in the cafe is dedicated to the project. At other venues it is a more informal set up, with books laid out on tables or chairs. ‘There’s no need to sign up, no card you have to take with you,’ McCall says.

So with Palmer and her team out ‘talking about recycling to anyone who’ll listen’ and McCall signing up new participating venues, what’s next for Pass It On? The plan is to expand the programme throughout Belfast, and possibly the Greater Belfast area, and encourage other councils across Northern Ireland to adopt the programme.

McCall is also planning ahead to the 2013 Belfast Book Festival, dreaming up quirky book locations to rival the well-known phone box libraries in Wiltshire and Scotland. Meanwhile Palmer is hoping to eventually expand the Pass It On programme to include items other than books. ‘Baby items in a mother and tots club, for example. But that’s a lot further down the line.’

For now, Palmer and McCall are focusing on getting people to Pass It On. But have they donated any of their own books? ‘Yes, but in the dark so no one sees my true geek,’ Palmer laughs. ‘I read non-fiction, so all my books are about how to survive a volcano eruption or start rock climbing.’

Find Pass It On participating locations on the map below, or go to Pass It On Belfast's Website or Facebook.

View Pass It On Belfast in a larger map