Barter system: Meet India’s friendly neighbourhood 'book matchmaker'

  • Manoj Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 28, 2015 11:57 IST

Saurabh Hooda, 34, a Delhi-based IT professional, is a book worm who believes that books are meant to be shared, not hoarded.

Hooda feels that there are generous people in every neighbourhood who are more than willing to lend their books to fellow book lovers. Last month, he launched Lenro – an online platform which he says is the ‘friendly neighbourhood book match maker’. Lenro is a kind of social network that allows people to meet and exchange books.

Before launching the platform, he conducted a survey in Dwarka, where he lives, to gauge the reading habits of locals. The survey found that in an apartment building of about 300 flats, there were at least fifty houses that had a copy of EL James’ bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey.

“Many of them lived on the same floor and said they were willing to barter every book they own for books that they want to read. We are trying to create a free book exchange movement in the country,” says Hooda.

Lenro lets registered users know if anyone nearby has a book that they are looking to borrow. It enjoys maximum patronage (registered users) in south Delhi. “It proves that lending and borrowing books is not just about saving money, but also about meeting people who share same literary taste,” says Hooda, who quit his job at a multinational to start Lenro.

Children at a Little Free Library in Mumbai's Bandra. (Vipin Kumar and Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)

Similarly, last year, IIT-Delhi graduate Prasun Jain and his team launched Barterli, an Android application that allows like-minded bibliophiles in a neighbourhood to send private messages, meet up and barter books.

In India, where libraries are in a bad shape and bookstores are closing down fast, several new initiatives — both offline and online — are helping create book barter movement in the country.

What drives the young proponents of the movement is the desire to bring millions of books—which otherwise lie in cartons, cupboards or just adorn bookshelves—back into circulation.

One of the most interesting offline initiatives to promote free exchange of books is Little Free Library (LFL), a movement which originated in the US a few years back. LFL, which encourages book lovers to put up small shelved structures in varied shapes such as a bird house, doll house, etc outside their homes or any other public place is fast picking up in India. People can take a book and return it whenever they want. Those who manage these LFLs are called stewards.

The first LFL in India was started in Bangalore in 2012. Today, the cities that figure on LFL’s global map include Delhi, Chennai, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Bangalore and Jaipur. In fact, Chennai alone has about 10 LFLs across the city.

So, how is a LFL different from other conventional libraries? “There is no membership, anyone can take a book or leave a book. There is no record and no one is watching you. You can take a book in Chennai and return it at a LFL anywhere in the world. In fact, a large number of foreigners leave their books in our LFLs,” says Abhimanyu Prakash, a businessman, associated with the LFL movement in Chennai.

LFL was founded in Hudson in the US by Todd Bol as a tribute to his mom who was a book lover. He put up a wooden shelf that looked like a school house in his lawn. Bol shared his idea with his business partner Rick Brooks who helped spread the word about the new social enterprise rapidly.

Today, there are over 25,000 registered Little Free Libraries in the world.

Vibha Kamat, who set up a LFL in a park in Bandra, Mumbai, says, “LFL operates on ‘honour and fair exchange’. If you take a book, you are supposed to leave one also, though you can do so at a later visit. And you are not supposed to leave a damaged book. Thankfully, our experience so far has been pretty good. In fact, many users have left very good books in our LFL,” says Kamat.

CJ Singh, who heads the Chandigarh Literary Society, has been running several free books programmes in the city for many years. He set up a LFL with 500 books in the city’s Rotary Club. “If you keep books at home, they gather dust and eventually get damaged. We want to set up LFLs outside schools and colleges. Such free exchange of books is a great tool to promote reading habits,” says Singh.

In fact, the book exchange movement is fast reaching universities and colleges. In April this year, students of Delhi University organised a book barter programme, which saw hundreds of titles—fiction and non-fiction—change hands.

“The idea was to encourage students to exchange a story for a story. Ours is not a platform to get rid of unwanted books; text books were not allowed. Students from several colleges participated. Khaled Hosseini was a much sought-after writer. In fact, we have received requests from many colleges to conduct a similar barter,” says Sukriti Sekhri, president of the book club of Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), which started the barter last year. “College students cannot afford to buy all the novels that they want to read. Book barter is a great solution,” adds Sekhri.

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