If you ever stumble upon a colorfully wrapped book in the Southern Tier, don’t just disregard the discovery as someone’s lost property. Chances are that the book was placed there strategically for you to find. A recently launched initiative from Binghamton University’s Liberty Partnerships Program (LPP) intertwines adventure with reading in an effort to connect the Southern Tier.
Books for Bing, which began in October 2017, is a literary treasure hunt created by LPP to strengthen communities through reading. The books are placed everywhere from local coffee shops to parks. LPP is a statewide program that provides several communities with support services to keep middle and high school students in school.
According to Erika Kalgren, ’16, the volunteer and special projects coordinator for LPP at BU, a major goal of the program is to brighten people’s days.
“Whether you’re going through mental health problems or are just having a bad day, we hope someone stumbles upon our books and realizes that they are important,” Kalgren said.
Both new and used books from a variety of genres have been donated by community members to LPP at BU. LPP volunteers, including students and community members, are tasked with sorting through these donations and picking which ones they think will be most impactful.
“We don’t want to pick books that someone left for us because they thought the story was awful,” Kalgren said. “We want the books to really matter to this person because if it didn’t, we lose that important connection piece that Books for Bing tries to convey.”
Once vetted, the books are carefully wrapped by volunteers in colorful paper and marked with a special sticker that says, “I’m not lost, I’m here for you.” They are then distributed to locations around the Southern Tier, including sites in Downtown Binghamton.
Kalgren said that part of the inspiration for Books for Bing came from the desire to commemorate the life of Mark Humphrey, the late brother of LPP Director Amy Humphrey. Kalgren said that reading and writing were Mark’s coping mechanisms as he battled mental illness.
“When I presented this idea to [Humphrey], she agreed that this would be a perfect way to not only memorialize her brother, but also reach out to others that may be going through similar problems,” Kalgren said.
In the future, Kalgren said she hopes to incorporate more students into the project by creating internships and wider volunteer opportunities.
Brenna Klawitter, a current intern for Books for Bing and a sophomore majoring in English, said she appreciates the project’s message, especially as an avid reader herself.
“When I learned about Books for Bing and how they hide books around to spread the love of reading to the community, I really wanted to help,” Klawitter said. “Reading is so important to me and I want to help others fall in love with it too.”