At the heart of my library is my father’s library. When I was seventeen or eighteen and began to devote most of my time to reading, I devoured the volumes my father kept in our sitting room as well as the ones I found in Istanbul’s bookshops. These were the days when, if I read a book from my father’s library and liked it, I would take it into my room and place it among my own books. My father, who was pleased to see his son reading, was also glad to see some of his books migrating to my library, and whenever he saw one of his old books on my bookshelf, he would tease me by saying, “Aha, I see this volume has been promoted to the upper echelons!”
In Bonn, Germany, I noticed a bookcase full of books in the public park where I run, with a young woman removing one book and returning another. These are used books that make up essentially a free voluntary lending library.
Would this cabinet last undamaged in a U.S. city one day? I doubt it. Similar things exist elsewhere — such as outdoor vending machines for DVD’s in Kyoto, Japan. Both of these indicate a certain level of mutual trust in the population and a certain level of civility; both reduce the transactions costs of daily living: easier access to books in one case, 24-hour DVD availability in the other.
Mutual trust is important in reducing transactions costs, and this aspect of culture has been viewed by economists as helping to determine some economic outcomes. (Although how different levels of trust arise has not been considered by the mostly macroeconomists who worry about this; it’s creating trust that seems to me to be the central issue.)
How many other examples like the books and the DVD’s are there in foreign countries that we don’t see at home?
For our readers who are unfamiliar with Room to Read, can you explain what it is?
We do three things: We build schools. We establish multilingual libraries and fill them with thousands of books. And we provide long term scholarships for girls because girls are often left out of the education system. Basically, we’re a group that is committed to reaching 10 million kids across the world with the life-long gift of education. In education lies the key to self sufficiency—and the best long term ticket out of poverty.
What does a $20 Donation do for Room to Read?
This is a perfect price point. Twenty dollars is sufficient to sponsor a girl’s scholarship for one month. We can also print 20 local-language children books in languages that have never really had children’s books before. It’s one of the reasons there’s such an illiteracy problem in the developing world—there’s just no children’s book industry.