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Awesome Books: A Haven for 4 Million Used Books

by | Nov 29, 2023 | News

An enormous warehouse in Oxfordshire is finding homes for four million second-hand books, while helping charities spread the power of reading to families. The Awesome Books warehouse in Wallingford is filled with row upon row of towering shelves holding around four million second hand books ready to be sold.

Awesome Books in Wallingford is home to more than four million second-hand books.

Taskeen Ahmed, the CEO said: “Back in 2002 my brother and I were visiting some charity shops and we saw books being thrown away and we were heartbroken.

“Books to us, my brother and I, we’re book lovers, and they are such powerful things.

“So we said to ourselves ‘we’ve got to find something better to do with books that people no longer want to read’.

“Even in a country like the UK actually child literacy could be so much better. Making sure these books are finding a new home, getting re-read, getting used, I think is so critical and so powerful.” Around 300,000 books arrive at the warehouse every day for processing, which is either excess charity shop stock or books chucked away at recycling centres.

The business also has a charitable side and every month around 100,000 books are donated to charity. They go towards supporting initiatives in countries like Ghana, India and Pakistan. However they are also supporting charities in the UK.

Among them is grassroots charity The Children’s Book Project, which has been donated 20,000 books this term.

The warehouse, which was credited by the artist David Shrigley for helping him to collect thousands of copies of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, takes books from charity shops and recycling centres and sends them around the world. They can be sold on — either directly to customers on the Awesome Books website or to wholesalers who market the books abroad — or donated to literacy programmes.

A special few of their number have become collector’s items, after Shrigley announced that he would be selling 1,250 special-edition copies of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, created by pulping and repurposing 6,000 copies of the maligned 2003 bestseller The Da Vinci Code, most of which he found here. Taskeen Ahmed, the director of Awesome Books, describes Shrigley’s work as a “great project”. “It’s a different take on what you can do with books.”  

It certainly feels like it here: there are four million books shelved on-site, supplied by more than 3,000 charity shops, book banks and collection programmes, including at 200 household waste recycling centres. Everything is catalogued according to size rather than by author or by genre, to make it easier to pick, pack and ship them quickly.

While authors might bridle at their hardbacks being donated, they’re missing an important point. Book production uses a vast amount of trees, water and carbon dioxide. “If you buy a used book versus a new one, 80 per cent of the carbon is saved,” Ahmed said.

Awesome Books estimates that at last count it had saved four billion litres of water. Any books that are really too shabby to be resold or rehomed are recycled.

 

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