If book fan and literary crusader Jess Haigh were a novel, she might well be called The Girl With The Heavy Suitcase.
The 27-year old from Kirkstall is on a one-woman mission to get Leeds reading – and her ‘travelling suitcase library’ is doing just that.
Since starting the free book swap club, library assistant Jess has helped people exchange around 2,000 books at about 30 sessions.
And her idea has struck a real chord, with people as far afield as Australia and America telling her they want to start clubs.
The sessions happen across the city, and at events as diverse as literary gatherings and beer festivals.
The latest, a ‘Guilty Pleasures’ book swap, is at Dock Street market next month.
Jess, who works at the library at Keighley College, said: “I wanted to bring reading for pleasure back into the social sphere, so people find it socially acceptable to carry a book around in their bag.
“You go to the pub and people have their phones and they talk about films and music, but not books. But people can bond over books and it makes me proud when I see that.”
A recent survey by the National Literacy Trust found that almost four million children in the UK do not own a single book. One in five had never received a book as a present, and more than one in 10 had never been to a bookshop.
Lifelong reader Jess said such statistics were “really sad”, and it was even sadder that so many libraries in Leeds have been closed or have been under threat.
But despite loving real paper books, she is not a technophobe, and says “anything that gets people reading is a good thing”.
“I’m not going to panic that e-books are going to be the death of books,” she said. “If it gets more people reading, then that’s great.
“It’s good for our mental health and it’s a social activity.
“People don’t need to feel ashamed of what they are reading or how they are reading it, the act of reading itself is enough.”
Jess’s own favourite book-swap acquisition is a novel by A.S Byatt.
And her favourite ever book is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
“I have probably given a few copies of that away at swaps and it does feel like you have given a bit of yourself away,” she said.
“People do get attached to their books. But it’s about sharing the act of reading.”
The next Travelling Suitcase Library swap shop is at Dock Street market on Wednesday, June 13 from 7pm to 9pm.
All are welcome to bring their favourite books to swap or to come and brows others’ submissions. You do not have to submit books to take part.