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Hay Festival 2024

We were pleased to be returning to Hay Festival in May, where our Vice Patron, Lord Paul Boateng was joined in conversation by authors Elif Shafak and Priscilla Morris. Here he shares more from the event.

In May I made my way back to the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye to chair Book Aid International’s event at this year’s Hay Festival. Book Aid International has been fortunate enough to have a platform at the Festival for the past six years, where they have had the pleasure of meeting like-minded book lovers and been supported by a range of wonderful authors. This year, Book Aid International was very pleased to welcome writers Elif Shafak and Priscilla Morris to the event, Beyond Conflict: The Role of Libraries in Rebuilding Societies

L-R: Priscilla Morris, Lord Paul Boateng and Elif Shafak

Libraries are all too often damaged or destroyed during times of conflict, either deliberately as repositories of cultural heritage or simply as collateral damage in a war zone.  

However, books and libraries are also a lifeline for many in turbulent times, offering a chance to escape, to learn, or simply a safe space, they are vital in helping people to rebuild their lives and communities.

Book Aid International supports libraries across the globe – providing everything from high quality children’s books to the latest medical and legal texts, sending what their local partners say will make the biggest difference. Among these are many libraries which have been damaged in times of conflict. Since 2018, Book Aid International has sent 30,387 brand new higher education books to Mosul University Library which was burned to the ground during the Iraq War, while 62,844 books have been sent to school and university libraries in Syria, which have been devastated by years of civil war.  

We are currently seeing the ongoing devastation of libraries across Gaza and Ukraine. The determination of the communities they serve to rebuild their libraries, as illustrated by PEN Ukraine’s Unbreakable Libraries campaign which Book Aid International supported with 25,000 donated books, highlights the role these institutions play beyond providing books: as safe spaces where communities can come together and where reading and learning can continue, and the future can begin to be rebuilt.  

Priscilla, Elif and I discussed what is lost when libraries are targeted or when people are displaced and access to libraries is taken away. We looked at the role that libraries can play both during conflict and as a country begins to repair – I know from my work with Book Aid International that libraries can often take interesting new forms as societies rebuild – and we considered why, even when people are displaced, books and libraries remain important. 

I’d like to say a thank you to Hay for inviting Book Aid International to join the conversation around the power of books, to authors Elif Shafak and Priscilla Morris for their insightful thoughts on the role of libraries in times of conflict and for their beautiful readings and to the very engaged audience who asked many interesting questions.

If you weren’t able to make it to Hay, the event is now available to watch on Hay Festival Anytime.

Photo Credits: © Sam Hardwick and Hay Festival


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