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5 Minutes with Cayleigh Bright, founder of FAIR Social

We chat to writer, author and founder about the importance of reading, access to literature for all and more

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By Alyxandra Carolus | March 28, 2023 | Travel Leisure

Literacy is an invaluable skill and most importantly, it’s one of the few free activities you can do, no matter where you are in the world. South Africa is home to quite a few municipal libraries, but access can still be an issue for many in this country. We spoke to copywriter, author and founder of FAIR Social about this literacy-focused organisation, the work it aims to do and how you can support them.

Can you share a bit about why you started Fair Social and what inspired the name and cause?

A few years ago, I’d been thinking about how few free, safe activities exist. Reading is one of them, assuming you have a safe place to do it and access to a good book. Browsing for books and adding to your To Be Read pile can, of course, be as enjoyable as the reading itself.

With these thoughts on my mind and a renewed appreciation for libraries as well as events that make tangible the connection between books and community – books swaps, little free libraries, and other fun stuff that I was seeing and saving – I came across a space that was available to rent for a short period, for a small fee, and took it on without too much thought. It was fun, it was exhausting, and it confirmed my hopes: people like getting together for a good cause, and they also really like to browse and buy books independently.

The name applied to what we decided to do: social justice stuff, bookselling stuff, and little events that would generally aim to raise funds. Fairness, book fairs, and fairs more broadly in the sense of events to buy and sell and have a good time.

Where can people drop off books or donate?

The easiest way to donate to FAIR is to leave a book, or books, at one of our libraries. But, one of the things that make our organisation unique is that instead of the “Take a book, leave a book” model that most little free libraries use, we prefer, “Take a book, give what you can.” The words aren’t as catchy, but we mean it: if you want to read a book today but can only pay for it in three weeks, or three months, that makes little difference to us – and we’ve added a FAIR sticker inside the cover of each book in our libraries, so it’s easy to find us on social media or head directly to a payment method when it does become convenient for you to donate.

When you drop off books at a FAIR library location, we’ll take care of adding our stickers to them. If you don’t know where to find us or have a big batch of books to donate, you can contact us via email or Instagram DM and we’ll arrange a collection, then sort out the books and get them onto our shelves.

Libraries often serve as essential community spaces, what has the response been to the free library set-up so far? Are you planning to expand?

Yes, and the two parts of that question are more closely tied together than you might think! We’ve been excited to see that the bigger our libraries grow, the less work they become: when it’s just a shelf of a few books, a library takes a bit of maintaining because we need to make sure that we’re swapping out titles and keeping things varied and interesting, but once a free library gets bigger it becomes kind of a community-run, organic entity: books get dropped off, books get taken, readers take a book from one library and leave it at another.

As an author I can confidently say that it’s incredibly important, and delightful, to have your book read in libraries as well as bought in bookstores

Libraries, booksellers and independent bookstores all deserve a share of the love, and I hope that our little libraries will serve as a gateway to the “real”, bricks-and-mortar, municipal libraries that are there for everyone to use, for free, with so much to offer.

What have been some of the challenges and important wins for the organisation so far?

A challenge that I’ve found funny is that it’s difficult to convince people that they can really get something for free. I didn’t anticipate quite how much time I’d spend explaining that paying for the books is optional.

The biggest challenge has been finding the time to do this. Words are my work, my hobby, and my main source of relaxation, so it’s been a stretch finding extra hours in the day to transport books, stack shelves, create social media posts and conceptualise events.

Every donation we receive feels like a win. I’ll be going about my day and get a payment notification that triggers the affirming feeling that someone gets it – they see what we’re doing and they support the idea that books should be as available and accessible as possible.

What are the future plans on the horizon and how can people support Fair Social?

I believe that planning for the best is as important as preparing for the worst – not in a particularly idealistic way, but just because being caught without a plan when things suddenly go better than expected can be disastrous. So, I have a spreadsheet full of new initiatives for FAIR, some very realistic for implementation in the short term, and others there just in case an unexpected, lottery-win-sized donation comes our way.

A valuable way to support FAIR is actually to take books as well as giving them, and I’d love it if everyone reading this could tell their local restaurant, coffee shop or store that they need a little free library that raises funds for libraries, learning, and literacy. If you’ve got the space, we’ll bring the books.

Portrait image by Neo Baepi

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