It all started with a pile of books that came together at the Elpida seniors’ centre in Prague. “My friend Jáchym had worked with Elpida previously, and so they turned to him to see if he might come up with some idea how to put them to good and interesting use,” explains Michaela Vojtková, describing the origins of the Kupbook project, now already in its second year, which has allowed our grandparents’ books to be on sale in twenty seven cafés right across the Czech Republic. The proceeds then go direct to the Elpida seniors’ centre.
10 decagrams of Bulgakov
The principle is simple: Kupbook seniors bring to Elpida the books they no longer have room for at home, or simply those they have already read. From here, Michaela Vojtková and colleagues take them to cafés and other businesses hosting a special cash payment fitted box. The base price per book is twenty crowns, some customers give more. “All the boxes were crafted by a small carpentry firm, and I think they enjoyed making them – for the second wave of boxes we made a little innovation to make the money-box collection easier,” is how one of the students describes the process, having learned production work through Kupbook, while her colleagues have taken care of publicity on social networks and the design of promotional materials.
Today Michaela Vojtková is mostly in charge of the delivery of fresh books to the individual cafés. Where exactly a given batch is headed is something potential customers can find out on the project’s Facebook page. Here you can also find out exactly who donated the books. Social networking can turn the anonymous second-hand bookshop into something entirely personal – e.g. “Mrs. Zabloudilová goes to our English classes, knows of our antiquarian bookshop and so decided to donate the library of her late mother, the Švandovo Theatre dancer Milena Towarnická.” The founders of Kupbook themselves do say that it was their intention form the very beginning to sell books that tell a real story. “Quite often there is something inside, like a dedication or a loose photo,” Michaela Vojtková explains. It’s enough to leaf through a few volumes and the story comes right out at you. You can muse as to who it might have been at Christmas 1951, wrapping the book dedicated to “Dearest Mumsie” …
The Antiquarian Kupbook shop spread out across Czech cities is naturally broadening out, for more activities. Apart from the aforementioned, there is the itinerant project 10 decagrams of Bulgakov, under whose banner Kupbook has participated in, among others, the United Islands of Prague festival or the Knihex book fair. Books in the booth here are sold by weight, ten decagrams (or a quarter pound) comes to twenty crowns. Some books on offer in the boxes at events are even brand new, for instance when Kupbook obtained part of a closed-down bookstore in Vsetín or a cross-section of their output as a donation by publishing house Labyrint. Hundreds of books have passed through Kupbook bins to date.
“At first it was hard to persuade some coffee house owners to take our book boxes, and we are still looking for more. Currently we need homes for three boxes,” says Michaela Vojtková outlining the current status. She has personally arranged the cooperation with Prague’s café Al Cafetero – since she was living nearby, she simply reached out to the owner.
“It’s another attraction for our guests, many of them coming back for books regularly. I myself occasionally buy one,” says the proprietor, Karel Gregor. The selection at Al Cafetero is greater than elsewhere, instead of the classic box they have a traditional bookcase, into which goes the eclectic mix of novels, crime fiction and technical books. “I found something for me by Robin Cook, and my wife and I bought an older guidebook for recreational cottage care” says Gregor, listing his ‘loot’. He goes on to say that one lady from the neighbourhood even brought him a box of books herself.
Normally, the shelves are replenished about once a month. Titles that do not find a buyer are collected by the Kupbook people, who load up their car and take them to another box. Given that the additions to Kupbook’s circulation do pass through the hands of art students, some don’t get as far as finding readers, but end up in a specialized library. “We have new books from Mrs Macháčková, who is moving to a studio apartment and can’t fit them all in there. Some of them will top up the Fine Art Archive collection and a proportion will be sent back into circulation through our boxes,” says one entry on the Kupbook web pages. “True graphical pearls do appear among the books from time to time, we put those aside for the Archive. We’ve even put on an exhibition of some interesting covers,” Miss Vojtková explains.
From birch to chipboard
The money that is collected thanks to the project goes to the above-mentioned Elpida organization and helps cover the running of their social centre, the various courses for seniors, as well as the support helpline, not forgetting the publishing of a magazine for the older generation. This is another reason why these design students set out to make the boxes inexpensive to make. “We had five initial designs – our own and by friends we went to. We tried to pick the most attractive, but also the most practical,” a twenty-year old student of design recounts, describing how the ultimate ‘box’ took shape.
There are now two types of box in circulation: the first version was made of birchwood, the later ones were fashioned by the carpenter from chipboard. “We have received a grant in support and we wanted it to stretch to the greatest number of boxes – so we were looking for a cheaper alternative to wood,” Michaela Vojtková clarifies. The organizers are now most busy with the distribution: the books are often delivered by the founders’ friends and acquaintances, who happen to be going in some direction or other. “We would love to have a box in Brno, say, but first we need to take care of the logistics – let’s hope it works out.”
Right now, the Kupbook group is looking to raise money for further boxes. “Last year, we collected ten thousand crowns for Elpida, we’d like to outdo that this year. We have enough books, all we need are places that we can offer them at.”
At Eastbook, we’d like to explore some pan-European but also local transformative initiatives in more detail. We will examine the movements’ models for societal alternatives, as well as their methods for achieving them. Our goal is to identify and share sources of inspiration for regional and global change.