Oxford University Press’s ‘bookshop-on-wheels’ returns to Lahore

391743 bookbus 1339352237 155 640x480 Oxford University Press’s ‘bookshop on wheels’ returns to Lahore

LAHORE: After travelling more than 8,000 km across Punjab over the last eight months, the Oxford University Press (OUP) mobile bookshop has returned to its base camp in Lahore.

It is expected to stay here for a week before embarking on its next journey.

Habib Salim, in-charge of the mobile bookstore project, told The Express Tribune that the store had been more popular in remote areas than in large cities.

“The idea of a bookstore-on-wheels is not novel to those who live in big cities,” he said. “People also have a variety of options to buy books.”

Salim and his four-member team, which includes a driver, a helper and two assistants, have made stops at over 40 cities and towns in Punjab since October 2011. “I joined the project in 2005 when it was conceived,” Salim said, “We began operations in Karachi by renting the bus.”  “In 2006, the bus travelled north through Sindh and then into Punjab. Rahim Yar Khan was our first stop in the province,” he said. Salim said they had returned to Punjab again in 2008 but could not come in 2009 or 2010 due to a deteriorating law and order situation. “Not being able to return was sad,” he said.

However, in 2011, we were allowed to make our third journey through Punjab, Salim said. The bus, marking seven years in service, contains a book counter, labelled bookshelves on both side and a discount corner. The books range from stories for children and activity books to dictionaries.“We stock up from the nearest big city and travel to surrounding areas,” he said. He said that the bus usually visits schools in the morning. “We make it a point to stock up books children demand,” said Salim. “The prices for children’s books start at Rs20-30.”

“The excitement of children in the bus is just priceless,” he said. “Sometimes, it is difficult to handle them.”He said that during evenings the bus stops at markets. “This is the first time we have received media attention,” he said.

Sialkot recorded the highest sales in Punjab (Rs500,000 in 15 days). Sales at Chashma Barrage reached Rs200,000.

“Our stays in Lahore, which add up to a month, generated less sales,” he said.

Tariq Haq, regional sales director, told The Tribune that the mobile bookstores sales indicate that people are still inclined to read books. “The idea was to promote reading by taking books to people,” he said. The project started slow, but it has gradually gained popularity, he said.

“It is most popular amongst students and children,” said Haq. He said that the bus had also visited various universities.

“Sometimes we are invited by educational institutes when they hear the bus is in their area,” he said. Haq said that OUP hoped to retain the bus despite the maintenance cost. After a week’s stay in Lahore, the bus will depart for Sahiwal.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2012.