The thesis of the store revolves around the initiative of each volunteer and how they pour their time into Ark. As of now, there are twenty individuals who are contributing to it
Ark Books inception and history
Four like-minded women with the zeal and ardor for reading founded Ark Books in 2014. Situated in Møllegade, the establishment is anything but a bookstore. Nevertheless, it functions and acts like one. Ark Books sells, in fact, esoteric novels that are hard to come by and are published by publishers that produce works in a manner that goes against the grain of consumerism.
Ark Books doesn’t take on the title of bookstore. Giovanna Alesandro explains, in fact, that the Ark brand is registered as a Förening in the city of Copenhagen. A close translation to this in English would be a co-op or a collective. Within the structure of this collective, exists a board where individuals are elected each year to take on the responsibility to maintaining the store. «Now, our Chairman is Frida Hammershøy. The responsibilities include overseeing operations, making book orders and ensuring that there is a number of volunteers to oversee the store».
Alesandro plays the role as of a Contributing Caretaker of Ark Books. A role shared by a significant number of individuals who are a part of the store. The founding women of Ark Books have since absolved their roles, taking on other work-related projects and allowing for individuals that are unfamiliar with the establishment to assist in its growing.
«It is a responsibility of mine to denote that there are no owners to Ark Books. No one makes any profit from being a part of this. The structure of the store came from four women – Maria Dønvang, Maya Zachariassen, Ditte Nesdam-Madsen and Ariane Veiergang», Alesandro shares. She is one of the members from Ark Books’ infancy who still remains contributing to the store.
«Since its opening seven years ago, over one-hundred individuals have been a part of Ark. The store and its identity are the sum of the people who have given time and effort to it over the years. The individuals who are a part of this are volunteers».
The contrivance of the store came as a response to the types of books read in the area. Books in the native language of the locale and the curation of a selected few novels in English that came from the bestsellers list. Ark was an effort that the four women carried through to share lesser-known novels and a genre of books in the English language. It is worth noting that the money made from the sales of the books are put back into the foundation of the store – in buying titles, offering food for their patrons and volunteers, rent and into paying their taxes.
Lampoon review: Volunteers contribution
Alesandro explains that in 2013 – a year before Ark had opened their doors to the public – commercial bookstores were pushing for the sales of bestsellers and were leaving out titles that were hard to come by. Readers who were interested in titles other than what was offered were impelled to turn to online shopping platforms to procure these books. The effort to cater to a set of wants by customers and to introduce materials to the rest was how it then came together on the first of April.
Alesandro’s involvement in Ark was an occurrence that happened in the moment. The gathering crowd of people outside the store a month before its opening piqued her. Upon inspection and some exchanged conversations, she became acquainted with the four women of the store and joined their establishment. She has taken on a number of roles since being a part of Ark. «I am a Chairman to Ark, the person in charge for ordering books and handling taxes. I did these tasks as I do now while working as a translator for novels».
Establishing relationships with publishers across locations was how Ark carried forth their business model. Alesandro explains, «we got into a partnership with lesser-known publishers carrying English language books from Twisted Spon Press, Czech Republic and Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn». Their efforts in doing this have allowed for Ark to become a hub of sorts in Denmark to carry niche novels.
In its genesis, Ark brought together a collection of novels that were translated from a variety of foreign languages into the English language. Over time, the titles then changed, a result of the change in volunteers. Alesandro explains, in fact, that each volunteer has the opportunity to suggest a book to be brought in and sold. The thesis of the store revolves around the initiative of each volunteer and how they pour their time into Ark.
As of now, there are twenty individuals who are contributing their time at Ark. A number of them is studying in the university in the area. «For now, we are purchasing our stock of titles from a provider in Britain. Our volunteers have access to the back end of the site that allows them to leave titles in the cart. Genres have shifted since we were first established. Now, we have books in critical theory as well as philosophy».
The philosophy of Ark Books
An escapism to the eight people that were there in its first few months. The number of individuals volunteering in the store grew in size. It drew, in fact, in a crowd of followers and students from non-Danish backgrounds and expatriates. «We believe it is due to our library of books in the English language. This is a factor that stirs international students and expatriates to allotting time at Ark».
The space that Ark Books occupies once belonged to a children’s clothing store, its exterior resembling apartment buildings familiar to the streets of Copenhagen. The street Ark is located on has over time turned into a literary street over the last ten years. A bookstore selling books in Danish and Nordic literature and a church turned culture house hosting literary events was the force behind the change.
The individual behind these changes played a role in sprouting Ark out of the ground when he had asked two of the four women if they would be keen to use the space when the clothing store experienced a foreclosure. The store resides in a space of five meters by five meters. Therefore, only a certain number of employees and customers can enter the area at a given time.
The individual involved with the internal designs, Johan Lund Petersen, was a peer of one of the owners of the store. There, he had designed the desk, stools and the shelves used to this day. The vernacular of the structure begins at the exterior, where drawings that change over time decorate the glass windows. On the right is a leather couch for the use of Ark’s patrons. Complementing the setting in the middle of the store is a table where titles are splayed in thematic order based either on title, author or genre.
The wall on the left is decked with a shelf of books – arranged based on their author’s country of origin. «The North American section on the wall has a volume of books. It is the same when it comes to literature from the Middle East. These sections change over time depending on the interest shared by the volunteers». Above the couch is a collection of critical theory and poetry books.
A desk resides adjacent to the entrance, where the volunteers set up their workstation. Opening hours are from 12PM to 7PM. Volunteers have their respective shifts either in the opening or closing. «Individuals spend three to four hours per shift. It is a luxury that the youth can partake in their twenties».
Ark Books involvement with reviewing and publishing titles
Alongside selling books, Ark Books reviews and publishes titles. Alesandro explains that the Ark brand had to find a means to pool funds to establish their physical space. As such, they reached out to writers Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt to contribute unpublished work.
The Ark team were nonplussed when they had received a reply from the authors. «A year prior to Ark’s opening, the four founders had started a crowdfund online and initiated an auction. Being Auster’s and Hustvedt’s avid readers and having received a reply from them with their support was a blessing». Upon acquiring the manuscripts, the team took a year to curate and design a book that spoke for itself. The book from Auster was titled Alone and the latter, from Hustvedt was titled Becoming the Other in Transition.
Collaborating with Ordered by Color and Megan Adie of Aviary Press had allowed for the team to proceed with creating a hand bound book with no end or start. The two manuscripts exist side by side – having two spines. To read its content, individuals would have to remove one or both of the spines. When the latter occurs, the book has no beginning and end, offering a nonhierarchical structure to the reading experience. The Danish Royal Library, The New York Public Library and The Bodleian Oxford Library distributed the six copies of the finished work.
«We had a copy in store for display where readers could come in to read it. We had intended for the book to be accessible to everyone in the area as an homage to the writers who had given it to us and what we stand for. But, it was, in an unfortunate turn of events, stolen. Therefore, an undisclosed bank vault now hosts the remaining copy».
Having had press surrounding the works release, Alesandro explains that Auster’s relevance in the Danish community assisted in the buzz. «His Danish publisher was responsible for his growth here in the country». Alongside their publication, Ark Books, with the effort of their volunteers have reviewed books in the manner of written text and podcast recordings. Sharing the responsibility between herself and a volunteer in the store, Alesandro has since been managing the podcast for over five years now, being allured by the trend taking off in early 2014.
Alesandro was also part of this initiative. But, since then she has taken a step back to pivot her focus to Ark Books elsewhere. The establishment – while not having an attached café that sells drinks – provides them with no charge. Profits made from sales of books and seasonal merchandise are spent back into accommodating volunteers and patrons.
Ark Books’ initiative to maintain sustainability has urged them to remain offline by not providing their customers with the option to buy books on their site. «We opened up deliveries through e-mailing in Copenhagen where we deliver the books on bicycle to reduce our footprint. The idea to have an online store is not feasible as we are volunteer based». In its near future, Ark Books intends on re-introducing book readings, lectures as well as being a part of the festivals in the locale.
Møllegade 10, 2200, Copenhagen, Denmark
Ark Books is a community bookshop. It aims to be as inclusive a space as possible, where everyone can come, read and talk about books.