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Secondhand Literature Brings Book Drive to Stuyvesant

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Issue 12, Volume 112

By Elaine Huang, Nada Hameed 

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Student-run organization Secondhand Literature recently held their first book drive at multiple locations around the city. Student organizers established a branch at Stuyvesant, setting up collection bins near the Tribeca Bridge entrance. Throughout the course of the drive, librarians and student volunteers at Stuyvesant contributed to its success.

Stuyvesant junior Taee Chi, alongside Townsend Harris junior Joshua Lau, founded Secondhand Literature in late 2021 with the goal of increasing access to reading materials in light of the pandemic. Chi encouraged students and staff to donate books throughout the course of the drive in hopes of involving the Stuyvesant community in Secondhand Literature’s mission: addressing disparities in literature access, an issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. “Our mission is to combat the deepened inequities in literacy rates caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” junior and Secondhand Literature social media director Christina Shen said in an e-mail interview. “We hope to obtain books that have been sitting in people’s houses and redistribute them to those [who] actually need or want them.”

Chi was inspired to create Secondhand Literature after being tasked to aid a cause in his community. The disparities in reading materials he discovered in local schools resonated with him. “I came up with the idea after doing [the] SYEP civics engagement program [...] the final project was to come up with an idea for an initiative that could influence the community,” Chi said. “I was catching up with my old English teacher, and he mentioned how because of the pandemic, the school’s budget had to be cut down. It’s a Title I school, by the way. They couldn’t get any new books for the year. The library had to be shut down and turned into a classroom because they didn’t have enough space for the appropriate social-distancing between students.”

Chi and Lau felt that book drives would be the most effective way for students like themselves to contribute to the cause. “We thought book donations [were] the easiest way— and most direct way—to get not only us, but also other people in our community, involved,” Chi said.

There are currently four locations for the book drives, three of which are schools that Secondhand Literature board members attend while the fourth is a Queens community center. “Among the [organization], there are people from Stuy[vesant], Townsend Harris, and Francis Lewis, so we had someone from each school reach out to their respective schools regarding setting up a box in the school [...] We [also] reached out to Queens Common Point Center,” Shen said.

By the end of the drive, Secondhand Literature collected close to 250 books to be cleaned and donated. After each book was wiped down, in accordance with COVID-19 protocols, the donations were directed to schools, senior centers, and daycares. “It’s not really that big of a risk, [...] [since COVID-19] doesn’t really stick onto book pages; it’s more through respiratory contact. But we still do our best to clean the books.” Chi said. “We get the books, [and] we bring them to our worksite, Common Point Queens. Then the first thing we do is clean them, make sure the covers are wiped down, make sure there’s no weird stuff on the pages.”

Stuyvesant librarians helped make the drive a community effort, putting up posters to advertise the book drive. Furthermore, they directed duplicate book donations from the Stuyvesant library to Secondhand Literature and provided a number of free books available for Secondhand Literature to collect. However, Stuyvesant librarian Christina Kennedy stressed that the librarians’ role in the book drive was minimal, as the book drive was almost entirely student run.

Though the book collection progress was generally successful, student leaders encountered difficulties during the book distribution process. “COVID has made finding recipient locations harder, as people are more cautious with things, especially when books go through the hands of many people,” Shen said. “Also, some locations simply just don’t have space for books or they aren’t taking book donations at all.”

Furthermore, an unexpected issue involving missing donations arose during the drive. “Our box actually got stolen recently, along with the books inside of it. There were around 50 books inside of it [...] I think someone took it, or maybe the custodians cleared it or something.” Chi said.

However, the organization plans to continue running book drives. “Book donations are still a huge part of our core operations, and it’s the thing we started with, so I guess it’s always going to be special to Secondhand.” Chi said. “We are trying to stick to our core values, our core mission, which is really to foster a stronger culture of reading in our community. I think that’s a personal goal that I don’t want to deviate from by doing too many things at once.”

Since this was the first drive the organization has conducted, Secondhand Literature is hoping to expand their organization’s projects along with the locations that they serve and operate in. “We are building our team [...] [and] virtual learning program[s] [...] [such as] book clubs.” Chi said. “We’re looking to expand to other boroughs as well.”

Overall, Secondhand Literature believes that their latest book drive is a success. “It actually turned out better than we expected,” Shen said. “We were able to get more than 200 books in around a week.”