Coburg Coffee wants to get Halifax reading

Lena Patterson hopes that Coburg Coffee’s used book exchange will renew the community’s interest in reading.

By Emma Romano

Lena Patterson and her brainchild: Coburg Coffee's new book exchange shelf (Emma Romano photo).

When Lena Patterson began working at Coburg Coffee House in January of 2011, she had some ideas about what a coffee shop could do for a community.

Patterson, 24, and her boss Nancy Macdonald, decided to start a book exchange program to promote reading.

“We want to spread the love of reading in the community by making books accessible to everyone,” says Patterson.

The Coburg Coffee book exchange program began in mid February. Since then Patterson says she has seen four or five people come in and exchange books.

Customers can bring in used books, which are given a sticker, indicating that the book is now part of the exchange program. Books are put on a shelf and exchanged for others that the customer would like to read.

Patterson says the idea came to her when she noticed all the used and duplicate books she had left over from her Master’s degree in English.

“We, as a coffee shop, have a very diverse clientele. We have parents, children, students, professors all coming in here,” says Patterson.

The exchange programme  offers all sorts of books, from classic literature to textbooks and anthologies to children’s stories.

“What we hope will happen – and it may be a naive concept – is that people will bring back the books,” says Patterson.

So far, Patterson says, the program has been working out well and she hopes that it will continue to do so.

So how does Coburg Coffee’s small venture relate to readers in Canada and abroad?

With the advent of online books that can often be accessed for free with technology such as Google Books, it is becoming less convenient and more expensive for readers to go out and pick up a hard copy.

This trend towards online and digital reading is evident when looking at the annual financial reports from Canada’s largest book retailer, Indigo Books & Music Inc.

The 2010 report states that the “Other” category includes sales of and related to the digital reader called Kobo. Accounting for inflation and the opening of new stores, in store sales of books and gifts have either remained the the same or declined. The largest increase in revenue came from the category which included the digital reader.

The owner of Borders book stores in the U.S. recently filed for bankruptcy.

The sale of books in hard copy is declining both in Canada and abroad.

In terms of borrowed books, Sarah Wenning, the regional manager of readers’ services for Halifax public libraries, referred to statistics released by the library.

The percent of adults over the age of 19 registered with the library have gone down 8.14% from 2004 to 2010. That’s a drop of 10, 797 adults in the Halifax region.

To stay up-to-date with technology, the library introduced downloadable audio books, e-books, and videos in 2008 and 2009. These have proven to be very popular, with “39, 000 ‘checkouts’ within the past year”, according to the report.

One thing that Patterson hopes to achieve through the book exchange is to get Haligonians reading books again.

“The wonderful thing about a book in its printed form is that it can be shared. I’m not going to lend you my new $150 Kindle, but I will lend you my old copy of Mrs. Dalloway. The other thing that I love about second hand books is the idea of the previous owner. There is nothing better than finding a petrified bus transfer in an old book,” says Patterson.

Related links
Coburg Coffee House Website
Follow Coburg Coffee on Twitter
Chapters Indigo Canada Annual Fiscal Report 2010
Borders Bankruptcy News Release
Halifax Public Library Statistics