How to Run a Successful Book Swap

It’s great to meet and collaborate with a company who have the same values and missions – Discover who are the brains behind the London Children’s Book Swap – are one such company. Not only did their Book Swap begin in the same year as International Book Giving Day, it’s also held at the same time. It was meant to be!

Enjoy their wonderfully insightful top ten tips on how to set up & run a successful book swap in your own city – these people know what they are talking about.

The idea is a simple one, bring books and swap them at a local venue. It creates a great way for families to meet and share whilst children review and pass on their reads to a new audience. The Book Swap is successful because it is easy for the smallest to the largest organisations to manage. It is financially low cost, resource light and a perfect arena to get organisations to form natural partnerships that could lead to other collaborations.

Discover’s London Children’s Book Swap began in 2012 with 13 venues participating and has now grown to 40 venues in 17 boroughs across the capital including family friendly arts and cultural venues, museums, galleries and libraries. Over 2000 books were swapped in 2014. This year we are expecting triple that number.

Discover's London Children's Book Swap.  Photography by Tim Mitchell
Photography by Tim Mitchell


“We came last year… we swapped a book, read it, then swapped it again!”

“What I liked best about today was getting new books for free.”

“What I liked best about today was giving books to new homes.”
– London Children’s Book Swap Participants 2014

Below are our top ten tips for creating a Children’s Book Swap for your city.

  1. Approach venues with a natural family audience or who are looking to develop one
    In your first couple of years, it helps to begin with venues that already have a family programme of activities and events so that they have an existing audience to which to promote. However this is also easily sold as an excellent light-touch strategy of developing a family audience.
  2. Cover a wide geographical area across your city
    If it’s possible, try to secure venues in different parts of your city to make it as accessible to as many children across the city as possible.
  3. Start small
    While you’re finding your feet, aim for 10 – 15 venues and grow from there, year-on-year. Give yourself a good lead time to get all of your venues on board.
  4. Schedule your book swap on a weekend or a day when school is out
    It sounds obvious, but you’ll give yourself a leg up by scheduling your book swap on a day when visitor numbers are already likely to be high. Discover’s London Children’s Book Swap always runs on the first Saturday of the week-long February Half Term school break.
  5. Have a starting stock of books at each venue
    There can’t be anything more enticing then a healthy pile of books to choose from when you arrive at a Book Swap venue. Start collecting books early – ask for donations from family, friends and colleagues but don’t be afraid to reach out to local book shops and publishers. Be sure to thank them publically on your social media channels and tag them in – they might not expect it, but they’ll appreciate the nod.
  6. Give your book swap a unifying brand
    It might just have to be a simple icon that you design yourself, but even still, it is important the public, and potential future participating venues, can identify that you are all supporting the same city-wide initiative. This will support the project’s reputation and help it grow.
  7. Offer free activities alongside your book swaps
    Venues may already have a family show or exhibition running on your book swap day, but it helps to have free activities that interact with your book swap. Examples of activities that have run alongside Discover’s London Children’s Book Swaps include book mark making, storytelling and illustration workshops.
  8. Use your local media
    Your local news outlets and papers will want their communities to know that their local venues are participating in such a worth-while city-wide event. ‘What’s On’ or ‘Going Out’ sections will want to know what’s happening and Children’s Book sections (such as that of the Guardian online) should be willing to support such an initiative. Also use social media to create an online community for your book swap before the day and as a tool for reaching out to relevant press and blogging contacts you might not already have.
  9. Give your book swap a legacy for years to come
    Branded book plates are a very popular way of getting children and families to engage with the books. Provide space to write at which venue the book was swapped and what the child liked about it. Brand the book plates with your logo, social media and/or website information. These book plates will not only act as a talking point for the book but also for where it came from and ‘what a great idea a book swap is – when’s the next one?!’
  10. Take stock of what you have achieved
    Ask each venue for feedback from their book swap visitors and participants as well as for feedback of how they, the venue, think the day went and what they think could be improved. Collect quotations and photos and capture those positive tweets and Facebook quotes. They’ll all be handy if you want to apply for funding for your next book swap.
  11. Pat yourself on the back… then start planning for next year!

Discover Children’s Story Centre is the UK’s first hands-on creative literature space for children aged 0-11 years and their families dedicated to generating a love of language, literature and stories. Based in Stratford, east London young Story Builders enter a labyrinth of environments designed to stimulate curiosity and imagination. Children cross the Trip Trap Bridge, delve into the Sparkly Forest, play in Polka Dot Sounds, explore the Story Garden and listen to stories in many different languages. We invite exciting artists from many disciplines: authors, illustrators, poets, musicians, visual artists, storytellers, puppeteers, photographers and film-makers to work with children and their carers to create new ways of telling and sharing stories. In the Story Studio artists and illustrators are invited to create immersive installations inspired by stories designed to feed children’s creativity and develop their storytelling and creative writing skills.

We offer a variety of programmes including schools workshops, family art activities, a literature programme led by children’s writers and illustrators, community and education projects, artist residencies in schools and training for teachers. Each year, over 100,000 people benefit from Discover’s programmes.

One of Discover’s main principles is encouraging the love of reading and books. Sally Goldsworthy Discover’s Joint CEO had the idea that this could happen through a pan London initiative, a London Children’s Book Swap.

Written by Julia Cameron & Racheal Brasier

Discover's London Children's Book Swap.  Photography by Tim Mitchell
Photography by Tim Mitchell




Are you planning a Book Swap? Are you now inspired to set one up? Seize the moment!! … and tell us all about it. Can’t wait to hear your plans.

3 Replies to “How to Run a Successful Book Swap”

  1. I would like to run a book swap event at our primary school and would like some ideas of how to begin please


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