How Gladys Wong’s passion for reducing waste brought together a community of readers.
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Since May of 2014, Gladys Wong has been running the Kuala Lumpur Book Exchange in Taman Desa.
What started off as a selection of about 30 books has now grown to a collection that Gladys describes as “able to fill up a whole house.”
These days, over a hundred books get exchanged during the two-hour event.
“I haven’t been able to count how many books there are anymore. Right now, I’m borrowing the storage area of a factory that has given me some space,” says Gladys.
It all started when back in 2014, when Gladys found a small pile of books while volunteering with a recycling collection group.
What came to her mind was that it seemed wasteful to send books in good condition to be torn up for recycling.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the books, but then I learned about book exchanges and decided it was worth trying,” she says.
She visited the (now on hiatus) Subang Jaya book exchange programme, which helped her get started.
As for location, Gladys decided to set up shop next to the recycling collection point that she used to volunteer for. It allowed her to approach the existing foot traffic of people dropping off their recyclables, and also in turn, introduce her own customers to the habit of recycling.
That symbiotic relationship has allowed the KL Exchange to also be a platform for Gladys to spread awareness for the need to reduce waste and consumption.
“The book exchange works on a lot of levels. This style of browsing, it helps people discover new titles or new authors,” she says.
“You can try new things and just exchange it again if you don’t like it. It lets you try one title from an author before you commit to purchasing something new from them.”
Now five years on, and the community continues to grow.
The KL Book Exchange now has over 6,000 people engaged on its Facebook page and it also recently added a second venue at Sunway Velocity Mall.
Back in 2015, Gladys even started travelling to Penang to setup an exchange in Georgetown. After two years of commuting for the event every third Sunday of the month, the Penang Book Exchange finally grew enough for Gladys to hand it over to local volunteers to run.
The mechanics for the book exchange is a standard one-for-one exchange but you can also purchase a book for RM5, which goes to charity.
For the future however, she has hopes that the momentum in growth she has now will continue and possibly automate the exchange online.
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But for now, Gladys is happy with how a physical exchange has allowed relationships to form, grow, and develop into a community of its own.
“There has been a lot of trust that has developed here that I don’t even need to count the books when people make their exchange,” she says.
“Sometimes people hold on to books for each other, knowing that the other person is looking for the specific title.
“The community is already bigger than I could have imagined it when I started this.”