Most of us know Junaid Akram as the Pakistani, Dubai based stand-up comedian, who has made a unique mark in the social media sphere, due to his ability to laugh at his own self. He goes by the username “ganjiswag” on snapchat, and has made semi-formal, informative videos on social issues, addressed to the Pakistani public for well over a year. It is his witty remarks, quality content and communication with his fans on Facebook that turned him into a social entrepreneur that we all look up to.
In early 2017, he made headlines by offering to bring free books from Dubai for book lovers in Pakistan who could not find the titles in leading bookstores here. Free, high quality books – with the option of doorstep delivery for individuals in Karachi – came as a surprise for many. Encouraged by the response of Pakistani public, in August 2017 Junaid set the foundation for ‘A Novel Idea,’ a book swapping library located in Success Factor, Bukhari Commercial, Karachi. Two weeks ago, a second branch opened up in TDF Ghar as well. The idea is to cultivate the habit of limitless reading, where people can take home a book, in exchange for one that they have read, and no longer have use for. Thus, books are exchanged between countless people, without a single rupee involved in the transaction. While book swaps do take place abroad, this is the first of its kind project in Pakistan.
In a Facebook video, Akram revealed that career/educational counseling service Success Factor, lent and customized the first venue. The second time it was TDF Ghar which reached out to him, offering him a room in the house. The first library is a spacious, well maintained space, where students are encouraged to read, study, and conduct group discussions, all while devouring complimentary coffee and snacks provided by the management. The second consists of a single room, with a large discussion table in the centre, and all the facilities of TDF ghar easily accessible. The project, which has only been running for over 5 months, is still in its trial phase, but the amount of donations received, indicates that the initiative has gained tremendous support. As of now, each library has 2000 donated books, and in fact the team has stopped accepting more books for now. Junaid Akram and team have generated an online catalog of the books, and people can reserve their desired books online for a period of 24 hours, before picking (and replacing) them from the library.
The app for ‘A Novel Idea’ is available on Playstore and iOS, making it easier for students to get information about books in stock. Books from a variety of genres and languages are available, with course books and past papers as an added plus. Of those skeptical about the initiative, Junaid Akram said, “Many of my friends advised against this. They couldn’t understand why I wanted to do something for such a ‘thankless quom’. But I believe that trying and failing is better than failing to try. I have laid down my resources for students and bibliophiles in the city; now it is up to them to honor this space and use it for productive projects.”
Bibliophiles hold on to their books like a squirrel holds on to its nuts, but even the most relentless pack rat can run out of space. Urdu bazaar is an option to clean out those bookshelves, but you aren’t going to get back the money you put into it. This is where book swapping comes into the picture. Leave your book in the library, where it will find a new reader, and pick a new one to take home. By participating in book swapping, you are also saving a tree, and leaving a smaller environmental footprint than by printing a book.
Let us hope that Junaid Akram’s noble initiative is honored by the community and that the spaces are used for book clubs and career counseling sessions.
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