Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Reading Culture, Africa-style

There are a few reasons I like this story by Wanjiru Waithaka from Africa Business Daily - not a paper I read regularly, admittedly, so I'll just admit I went through a Shelf Awareness link.

First, the writing is quite straight forward and unflashy, even a bit informal in spots: "Often, the four bookshop employees had to climb a ladder in order to access books in the confined space. Forget that now. " And also, it's good and interesting news coming out of Africa that is not about political corruption, poverty, disease, etc... I know all that is real and urgent, but I also know Africa is a fascinating, exciting continent full of thriving and even prosperous cultures, so here we have a story about this private rental book library in Nairobi. (I also have become increasingly interested in Nairobi in particular due to my friend Lynsey's research and blog.)

So there's all that, but there's also the actual business itself, this Book Villa.

It's a private library, where you buy a subscription. They have different levels in which you pay more to be able to take out more books at a time - a bit like Netflix. But wait, there's more! You can also then buy a book that you love for a discount, and sell novels (fiction only it seems) back to the store. AND they serve food and have lounge areas to eat and relax and read - something I've decided will never happen in Boston except in chain stores. Thanks, real estate market.

I'm conflicted because I don't want to see libraries privatized. I love libraries, I love going to the BPL, even with all the homeless people there. I've always loved them, even the crappy one in my Texas town growing up. But I like the idea of a collective "store," where you can borrow and buy and sell, a bit like Zipcar in a way - though that place ain't without its problems, with ongoing customer service issues and, as it turns out, a growth strategy that involves overpowering smaller car-sharing services across the country, from Oakland to Philly. All the same, I think I'll read this article about Robin Chase, the founder of Zipcar, on "the economy of sharing." For a sample: Owning assets in their entirety, like an entire car or swimming pool is an excessive way to spend money. "We feel ourselves in a state of scarcity because we feel we have to own the whole asset, and 'we just want a little piece of the benefits.'"

So my curiosity is piqued by this Book Villa, as I think through ways to support books and reading in a non-profit but sustainable way. And apparently, I'm not the only one who found this story interesting...

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