Following is our article Amy Schweitzer, from the Grand Island Independent, wrote on March 3, 2012 about our project of giving books away.
AURORA — Kids, mothers, the elderly and the grieving in Aurora have all received books from Susan’s Books and Gifts in Aurora.
Susan Williams believes people getting the right book at the time they need it is more important than making a profit at her bookstore on the east side of Aurora’s square.
“If books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation,” Williams said, quoting Daniel Webster. She has been giving away books since her store opened 10 years ago.
To help Williams accumulate and distribute books, money has come in since 2009 from private donations, business donations and sales of used books donated and sold through her store.
In 2011, $11,750 was raised and more than 1,400 books were given way, including 300 books to Aurora Memorial Hospital patients and new babies and their moms; 600 books to those grieving or hurting while living in the hospital’s long term care; 450 to students for rewards at area schools; and 100 to new mothers in the Aurora area.
Williams and her husband, Stuart, were both teachers. Stuart continues to teach at Central Community College.
“We both are deeply ingrained with the importance of (getting) books in hands and the power of a book changing a life,” she said, adding that she gets frustrated when someone tells her they don’t have time to read. “We have to read because it will change who we are.”
Each Thursday she writes an essay on her website, www.susansbooksandgifts.com, about what she is reading and thinking about that week.
“The goal that we have in our store, more than just surviving, is to help develop a love for learning in our community and a desire for learning and reading,” she said, “and to help those who come in the store to realize there are books out there that they will love and could change their entire perspective of life.”
Williams said the idea to give away books is one she grew up with. Her parents gave away religious books for more than 30 years. It was her parents who often quoted Webster to her.
Then after her father died in an accident in 2000, her mother gave her “Streams in the Desert,” a daily devotional written in the 1930s. Her mother died just a few months later.
“It impacted my life so much when life hurt,” Williams said. “It’s not on death or any specific, just for if you are in a tough time. Every page is just poetry, hymns and hope.”
She gives away an average of 500 copies of the book a year. The other book she gives away to mothers a lot is “Gift From the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, mother of the famously kidnapped baby.
“When a young mom comes in, you can see that they are exhausted — just fried,” she said, adding that the Lindbergh book is about trying to fulfill all the roles that women are supposed to be — mothers, wives, employees. “She talks about how are we to have our inner life and our outer life be even, without faking it.”
Williams said she often will give a book to someone who comes in her store, believing that a book will mean more if it was given to them than if they paid for it.
“I’ve always had the idea that if I hand someone a book when I know they are hurting, it is going to be much more effective at midnight when they see it than if they had handed me $10,” she said. “I believe it is more beneficial for them to know that someone cared enough to give it to them.”
“The cost of a book for us is about the same as a cup of coffee,” she tells people if they protest that it is too much. “Sometimes it is hard for people to accept a book for free.”
Williams said initially she didn’t even plan on having a retail store, but after her parents passed, they opened the store when their oldest son, Camden, was just 4 months old. He is now 10 years old and their other son, Shaun, is 7 months old.
“Coming from a teaching background, we just had the mindset of having books available to anyone,” she said.
Williams remembers a bookstore that worked with the school where she taught in California. The bookstore owner had collaborated with other businesses to give books especially to low-income children.
Williams doesn’t want the bookstore to take credit when books are given away. “They are given as a gift from our community,” she said.
When books are distributed, any business that has ever participated is listed on the certificate or on a bookmark. That way, businesses can deduct the gifts as an advertising expense.
“It seems to work in this community because people know me and businesses know each other and there is real pride behind the project,” she said.
Williams said Runza’s literacy program allows them to be a main sponsor every year, but often customers add some money to their total as they check out. The used bookstore portion of Williams’ bookstore was added to bring in a little more for the project. It also has become a place where people can drop off their used books.
“More than 8,000 books have been donated already,” she said. Williams said her goal is to eventually raise enough money to give away 5,000 books per year.
“This is just the tip of what we could do,” she said. She’d like like to expand it to other communities in Hamilton County.
“When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue,” Williams said, quoting Christopher Morley, on her website. “You sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night — there’s all heaven and earth in a book — a real book.”
Giving a book away gives the same feeling, Williams said.