Less Book Burglar, More Robin Hood

Anyone who knows—or knows of—me will vouch that I’m more likely to be commandeering books than giving them away. But I’ve recently become involved with quite possibly the only charitable organisation that would inspire me to do so. The sticklers among you would argue that I’m giving away my family’s books. I’ll admit that that’s largely the case. But no matter whose shelves I’m scooping books from, the reason is entirely above board and valid: the books are for The Benjamin Andrew Footpath Library.

Founded quite organically after Sarah Garnett, who had started volunteering at a food van, noticed a homeless man reading a book under a streetlight and began bringing him books from her home, The Footpath Library gives high-quality books to homeless and marginalised people.

That homeless and marginalised people might enjoy reading is not something many of us have considered, and it’s reflected in the integral (albeit singly-focused) services surrounding food and shelter that are offered to them. But what Garnett—and now thousands of people who’ve heard her story and donated books or volunteered their time with The Footpath Library—realised is that, just like you and me, homeless people too enjoy a good book.

As someone to whom books and reading are so central I’d eat or bathe in books if I could, I can’t imagine a life without the escape and the joy of a good read. For homeless people this impossible-to-comprehend reality is real—until recently, a lack of permanent address or photo ID meant that homeless people couldn’t join libraries, a free gateway to books that most of us take for granted.

A library is such a commonsense service that few of us (me included) realised that homeless people needed it, but is now something I cannot imagine not existing. I was so inspired that I signed on as the National Communication Manager for The Footpath Library, a fairly fancy-sounding name for an entirely voluntary but proudly held position.

My heart swells to be part of an organisation that is helping a homeless person who read their first ever book or have a book to give their child for Christmas. For some, a book is both a way of temporarily escaping their very harsh daily living reality and of opening themselves up to the world—I’ve had some incredible conversations not as someone with a home speaking to someone without one, but as a booklover speaking to a fellow booklover.

2-8 August is National Homeless Persons Week, a time when we consider and celebrate the people who find themselves without adequate, permanent, safe shelter. I’ll be buying some books from this good bookstore before it’s over as well as pillaging some unsuspecting family members’ bookshelves for some books to donate. It’s something I’m simultaneously chuffed to do and that reminds me of grateful for how much access I have to books, whether mine or others’. And it’s got me thinking: seizing books for distribution to others makes me less Book Burglar and more Robin Hood, right?