Spark

Books in taxis encourage people to read

'We made a sticker and what is written is: PAY ATTENTION, THERE IS A BOOK IN THE TAXI!'
Reading a novel left by YallaRead in the back of a cab in Tunis. (Ahmed Hadhri)

In Tunisia, literacy rates are high. But very few people actually own and read books. 

Ahmed Hadhri is a 24-year-old living in the capital of Tunis. He loves to read, especially books in English, but noticed the lack of resources available. 

That's why he created Yalla Read, a platform where people who do own books can lend them out to total strangers.

YallaRead means 'Come on, read!' 

in Arabic. 

 After launching in May 2016, the website has secured more than two thousand subscribers and over 1,500 book titles.

Recently, Ahmed had another idea: "We said, okay, it's good to reach people who read, but can we reach people who don't read? At least to raise their awareness about the importance of reading." He wanted to collaborate with a taxi service to encourage the exchange of physical books. So he called up a friend who owns a company called e-Taxi, the Tunisian version of Uber, but with official taxis. 

The way it works is simple. A couple of books are placed inside five select cabs in downtown Tunis. When a passenger finds a book, they'll hopefully read a few pages and if they like it, they can go on YallaRead.com and look for people who own that book. They send a request and meet them to borrow the book. It's all done with a ratings system such as Yelp or Air bnb, so that after a book exchange happens, each person gives a rating and feedback about the other person.

It's an inspired solution to a specific problem. And similar to what we've seen happen in dense North American cities — things like tool libraries or home appliance libraries, where people can share big items instead of having to buy and store them. We've even seen tiny libraries on people's front lawns.
For us, the sharing economy saves money, but it's also grown out of an issue of storage space. In Tunisia, the issue is access.

Ahmed says he got the idea when he was a student. He loved to read and wanted to read books, but ran into three problems: Not enough money, no access to English books in libraries or stores, and constantly having to bug his friends to see what books they had so he could borrow them. "I found myself wasting a lot of time trying to find a book I want to read. So I said, why not create an online platform that allows me to see the bookshelves of my friends and neighbours, without asking them, so that will allow me to read the books I want."

Access to books is a problem shared by many other countries, and Ahmed hopes to expand beyond Tunisia. "But we need more patience because it's something new. We're developing from scratch the culture of sharing, the culture of reading, and the culture of sharing books."

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