Origins – The Early Years of the International Organisation of Book Towns
Once upon a time in the West of the United Kingdom, just inside the Welsh border, there lived a young academic whose name was (and still is) Richard Booth. In 1961 he decided to fill the numerous empty buildings in his little home town with second hand books to sell.
This was an immense success. Before long more book sellers were arriving, and more empty buildings were turned into book shops. And so the first 'book town' was born: Hay–on–Wye. A few years later Richard made himself 'King of Hay' and he had many followers in other kingdoms and republics.
In Belgium, the little village of Redu became a book town, or rather a 'village du livre'. In France, Bécherel and Montolieu followed. Then, in the Netherlands, Bredevoort; in Switzerland, Saint–Pierre–de–Clages; Fjærland in Norway; Sysmä in Finland . . . . Now there are book towns all over the world.
In August 1998 Bredevoort organised an International Book Town Festival with book sellers from Hay–on–Wye, Wigtown (Scotland), Fjærland, Mühlbeck–Friedersdorf (Germany), Saint–Pierre–de–Clages, Sysmä and Redu. The participants were all very keen to get to know each other.
Before the 1998 festival, Marit Mauritzen, one of the founders in Fjærland, had visited several book towns to speak about the potential for working together.
So the Western Norway Research Institute ('Vestlandsforsking') in collaboration with the Tourism Department of the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, along with organisations and individual book sellers from five book towns, applied for funding for a European project. This funding was granted and Ingjerd Skogseid became manager of the EU–project UR 4001 'European Book Town Network – a Telematics Application based on a Model for Sustainable Rural Development based on Cultural Heritage'.
The project started in September 1998. It proved to be very useful for the partners from the book towns to get acquainted with the then–new telematics and with each other. In the beginning hardly anybody, except Vestlandsforsking and the University, used other means of communication than letter, telephone or sometimes fax. However, in the space of two years, the book sellers became familiar with the use of the internet for personal contact, publicity and book selling.
The final project meeting was held during the Second International Book Town Festival in July 2000 in Mühlbeck–Friedersdorf (Germany). At that meeting the participants chose a committee to create an International Organisation of Book Towns – which was registered in April 2001 in the Netherlands. The first board consisted of: Miep van Duin (Redu), president; Timo Hänninen (Sysmä), secretary; and Henk Ruessink (Bredevoort), treasurer.
The International Festival
Since 2000 we have had an International Book Town Festival, including a General Assembly, every second year. So the next Festival took place in July 2002 in Sysmä, Finland, with Timo Hänninen as the new president. Among the guests was a delegation from Saint–Pierre–de–Clages, in the French–speaking part of Switzerland. They joined the I.O.B. in 2003. Almost every year we have had one or more new members, sometimes individuals, sometimes municipalities or organisations.
The fourth Festival was in May 2004 in Wigtown, Scotland. Moira McCarty presided at the General Assembly in the Bladnoch Whisky Distillery.
Our First Non–European Member Towns, and a Bear!
Laura Kvamme was president when we had the fifth Festival in Fjærland during the summer solstice of 2006. We had two surprise guests: a wild bear looking for food near the fjord, and Mohammed Syairos ('Sy'), who gave a presentation on the two book villages in Malaysia. The General Assembly was especially pleased to welcome Malaysia as our first member from another continent.
The sixth Festival was in 2008 in Montereggio, Italy, at the beginning of May. The President at that time was Franco Muzzio, who was suffering from a broken leg – rather painful when you live on a mountain.
The seventh Festival, in September 2010, was in Wünsdorf–Waldstadt, in the former East Germany, with Werner Borchert as president. He showed us Hitler's favourite bunker, near the book village.
We had our eighth Festival on a beautiful tropical island, Langkawi, where one of the Malaysian book villages is situated. Mohammed Syairos was president. He had invited a delegation from Paju, the book town in South Korea. They also became a member.
Our next president was Jan Klovstad from Tvedestrand, Norway, where we held the Festival in May 2014. We all stayed in the nearby Bokhotellet (Book Hotel) which had a beautiful view of the Skagerrak.
While we had a new president every two years, the other board members were Dominique Fournier from Saint–Pierre–de–Clages as treasurer, Laura Kvamme from Fjærland as deputy board member and Miep van Duin as secretary.
Laura left the Board in 2014 and was succeeded by Peter Bodèn from Borrby, Sweden. Dominique is president now and Jan Klovstad treasurer.
Looking Ahead . . .
Our next Festival will be from the 25th to the 28th of August 2016 in St–Pierre–de–Clages, between the Alps and the vineyards of the Rhône. See our Events Diary page for details.