Saturday, January 28, 2012

Small Community Feel In The Big City: The Gap Filler Book Fridge

One of the (many many) things lost in my city after the February 22nd, 2011 earthquake are second hand book stores.

As a book collecting freak, I keenly feel the loss of many second hand book stores, especially the big three on Manchester Street and Book Mart on Papanui Road (my favourite haunt for SF&F). The earthquake also hit at a time when the book industry was (and is still) having a major effect on new book stores, with Borders on the verge of closing down. Thankfully local institution Scorpio Books have made a huge effort to remain in operation, moving to Riccarton Road and opening a second store in the Re:Start Container Mall back in the CBD.

The earthquake has had a major effect on my book buying habits, as I've taken to almost exclusively buying new and used online, with the odd trip to Scorpios.

And let's not forget about the huge hit our city library system took. The original central  library will be closed for years, and has only recently relocated to Peterborough Street. The satellite libraries have been doing their darnedest in the face of building losses, sharing space with council staff, ongoing aftershocks, technological glitches and even arson attempts (yeah, some yoik decided if it wasn't bad enough we'd lost so many libraries, they'd help another along the way!). Just what has been lost from our libraries the region over, I hate to contemplate.

A fridge full of books sits on an empty lot, a bench to one side beneath two small trees, surrounded by gravel and the remains of concrete foundations
The Gap Filler Think Differently Book Exchange,
corner of Barbadoes and Kilmore Streets,
Christchurch, New Zealand
So it makes the Christchurch book and literature scene seem a little grim. That's where the Little Book Exchange That Could comes into the picture.

Gap Filler is an art collective started post-quake that takes lots emptied by demolition and turns them into creative and community spaces. There is a popular petanque pitch in Lyttleton that now hosts weekly entertainment, the popular Cathedral Square chess set relocated to Sydenham, and the now world famous Think Differently Book Exchange.

Located on the corner of Barbadoes and Kilmore (where the Herb Centre and a picture framers used to be), the book fridge certainly filled a gap in the early weeks post-quake when people were desperate for entertainment  and out reach. The concept is simple - take a book to read and bring it back, or replace it with one of your own.

I pass the book fridge every day on the way to work and it makes me smile when I see people choosing books, trying to figure it out or taking photos. I have a fond memory of the fridge surrounded by snow and people in the middle of one of the massive (and unusual) snow storms the city endured.

I regularly do book clean outs, and as I've had no place to exchange them, this past year I've taken to leaving them at the book fridge. I don't often find anything worth exchanging, but that doesn't matter to me. There are probably some wags who nick off with the best books and never bring them back, and it's often left in disarray so each time I stop by I give it a bit of a tidy up.

The book fridge was originally intended to run only for a few months, but its popularity grew and word spread. I've seen photos and discussion of the book fridge turn up repeatedly on Twitter and Tumblr, and recently a photo of it Amanda Palmer tweeted to husband Neil Gaiman went viral. The book fridge has also received a write up in the revised Christchurch chapter of the soon to be released New Zealand 2012 Lonely Planet, virtually guaranteeing it will remain in place for a lot longer than expected.

Even though the book fridge was supposed to be a temporary installation, in hindsight its mash up of art, entertainment value, and effectiveness at drawing together a broken community is pure serendipity and speaks to the power of the written word.


  1. That is awesome. Really awesome.

  2. Superb. From time to time you hear the odd cynic saying 'what's the point of secondhand bookshops; the author doesn't get paid'. This post gives you the answer.

  3. It has been visited by both international and national Bookcrossers. Books have been donated from overseas(Bookcrosser id: gaboyd)

  4. Hi Amanda, great to hear you're keeping an eye on the fridge, thanks a mil for that! Coralie emailed me recently to ask if I could get some folk to visit and tidy it up and there are a couple of #eqnz tweeps who are keen.

    I contacted Coralie with an idea for a book exchange after the September quake and we'd originally planned to launch it in time for NZ Book Month last year ... but the big one hit. I'm so glad that we had the opportunity to make it happen, and thrilled that it's brought a smile to so many people and excited the imagination of so many others.

    Cheers, Sarah