Thursday, 3 March 2011

The good, the bad and the really very ugly side of World Book Night.

It's a great thing, it really is. Giving away books that you love, for free for goodness sake, how could it go wrong? I guess I should have seen it coming when the online application process was disastrously clunky but I didn't think for one moment that an organisation with as much backing as this could make such a mess of their communication.

I registered on the 23rd of December and was told there'd be a decision by the 21st of January. On the 18th of January we all get an email saying that as they have had 22,000 applications they are extending the deadline to the 24th, perhaps this is because they haven't got enough people to turn down as they only need 20,000? There is no explanation. However at the bottom of the email the personal details of Tom Williams are given; home address, telephone numbers, email etc. so presumably the 22,000 of us can now contact him to ask what is going on. 2 hours later Tom has clearly had enough and we get another email explaining that his details shouldn't have been given out and would we please use the contact details they are now providing. 

This has now taken up so much of their time that they haven't been able work out how to choose the givers so they write again on the 28th, (oh sorry had we missed the deadline?) and tell us they'll make up their minds on the 31st, they've had 3000 more applications.

On February the first I get my 'congratulations' email, telling me I have been chosen and that I should click on a link to find my nearest book shop to arrange delivery, which I duly do, finding that our local bookshop (which is sadly about to close) is on the list, hurrah, at last things are coming together. I register the book shop as my chosen collection point and get an automated response: 

"Thank you for choosing the location from which you'll collect your box of forty-eight World Book Night books. We will deliver them to The Orwell Bookshop (your chosen bookshop) in the week before March 5 and send you an email to let you know when you can collect them." 

Followed three hours later by:

"Congratulations once again on being selected as a World Book Night Giver. Some of you are having problems identifying your local library via the online form. If you are have difficulties and can't find the library that is nearest to you on the form please email us at instead telling us which library you want to pick your books up from. We will check with the library to make sure it's possible and will be in touch before Friday to let you know whether you can pick your books up there."

I hadn't had any difficulty as far as I was aware so I didn't contact, or Tom Williams for that matter. But they didn't care, they were determined to force me into going through the whole process again with this interestingly worded message:

Dear Claire
Things haven't quite gone as planned...

Thanks for your response to our email asking you to select your pick up point for your World Book Night books.  However, we are very sorry to report that due to problems with the database of available pickup points many of you could not find the correct pick up point relating to their area, or the post code was not recognised.  This has now been corrected, but it means that some of you may have chosen bookshops or libraries outside your area.
We'd therefore like to ask you to go back to the website and make your selection again. 

Clicking on this link
 will take you to the form on our website that lets you choose your preferred pickup point. We know it's a hassle, but we would rather have you do this now than send your box of books to the wrong place.
Please do this even if you have sent an email to us with your choice. And please do not email us unless you have a further problem when using the selection page.
We're very sorry for the inconvenience and any anxiety this has caused - this is the first World Book Night and we're still feeling our way, so we hope you'll bear with us. And thanks again for applying to be a World Book Night Giver.

You are not kidding - feeling your way? It's at this point that I start to check other information to make sure this isn't some huge scam. Apparently not, I need to be patient, all projects have glitches, right? So another form is completed and I sit back and wait. Something makes me think I haven't heard the end of the 'chooses your collection point saga' process. Yup, here it comes. Another email saying that:

"We're writing to you now because we haven't got a pickup point registered for you. This may be because you tried but the system didn't work, or because you sent us an email instead, but it would help us enormously if you could take a moment today to follow this link and choose from the list of bookshops and libraries - even if you have emailed us. "

OK, really, really bored now.

Next another one saying exactly the same as the first "thank you for choosing your location" message. 3 days have passed. I don't check my emails for the rest of the day, I simply couldn't face another one, but that's fine because I don't actually hear from them for over 2 weeks when they tell me, again that my books are being sent to my chosen book shop. Unfortunately they haven't told my local book shop. The book shop are very understanding when I go in, just in case they haven't been informed (now I'm thinking for them - gawd) and sure enough they don't even know what World Book Night is, but kindly agree to call me if anything turns up, neither the bookshop nor I hold out much hope.

Next there are a couple of emails inviting us to apply for tickets to the event in Trafalgar Square, with the chance to get a free signed t-shirt by Anthony Gormley and whilst I am a fan of his work I don't really have the confidence i the organisation to apply.

The books arrive, now I'm happy and I briefly unpack them all just to look at how lovely they are.

Then they really get the proverbial icing ready to smother the cake. Today they launch their new website, which will allow us all to "shape discussion" about World Book Night, now I'm not sure that's a good idea, considering my experience so far, but nonetheless it would be foolish not to login as I am informed that I am already pre-registered so I scroll down to what they refer to as a link. It's not. They do provide me with a user name and password though, my user name is my email address and my password is March5th. So I guess this means that every giver has the same password...hmmm, I'm no security expert but surely that's not a good idea. Anyway I copy and paste the web address and it opens the new look site, which asks me for my user name and password, then it asks me to 'register'. Once I try this step all hell lets loose. It crashes, finds blank pages and generally pisses me off, so after 5 attempts I go for a walk.

Whilst I'm on my walk I get 8 emails from 2 other givers, direct to my inbox, one of whom says:

Please stop spamming my inbox - over 150 emails in last 10 minutes. Website organisation has not been your forte so far WBN and it's wearing very thin now. Especially as I use my work email account for this!
You can read the message at: (I have removed the link as it's spam)
Have a nice day!

I receive this 4 times from the same giver. She's right, my patience is wearing thin too, but I can't blame her. 

In amongst all this from World Book Night I cannot find any messages of support or guidance for how to be a good giver. No ideas of how to promote the event, work with the community to give books to those who need to be encouraged into reading, no suggestions of the best way to give books away and stay safe. No opportunity for feedback, oh, until today, when they offer us a community website that doesn't work. I'm beginning to wonder how many people are feeling like this and will do as my friend Lins suggested "just give them all to me for the car boot sale and go down the pub".

Actually I'm not going to do that, On Saturday I'm off to Quidenham Hospice to give half to them and then my class of 10 - 12 year olds get one each and the rest are being handed out at the Anchor at the end of the night. I'm not doing it again though.

Rant over.

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