Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Liberate your books! They want to be free!

There was a small item the other day in the LibraryActivist blog about a Baltimore service called the Book Thing.

The Book Thing is basically a depository for temporarily orphaned books, run by a former Baltimore bartender by the name of Russell Wattenberg. It contains more than 125,000 books in all subjects collected from libraries, publishers, reviewers, authors and illustrators—as well as individuals.

Sounds like any old book store or collection. What makes the Book Thing different is that it then gives the books away, for free.

Here's the story: Wattenberg the bartender often heard teachers complain that their students had no books, so he began setting aside tip money to buy some for them. People heard about his gifts and started donating their throwaways. Sometimes Wattenberg would pack his van, head out to a crowded bus stop or playground, throw open his doors and announce, "Free Books!"

Wattenberg estimates that his operation distributes up to 10,000 books a week to a diverse clintele that includes university professors and homeless people.

Another cool idea for getting rid of books comes from the book sharing organization BookCrossing.

Anyone can register a beloved book with the service, then "Release it for someone else to read (give it to a friend, leave it on a park bench, donate it to charity, 'forget' it in a coffee shop, etc.), and get notified by email each time someone comes here and records journal entries for that book".

BookCrossing members register their books on the web site. Each volume is given an identification number. That ID number is listed on a tag or label placed inside the book's front cover before the book is left for someone else to find. The tag directs people who find a book to the web site, where they can track the volume's "travels". They can also make an entry on the site so other members know the book's current whereabouts.

The BookCrossing web site has archived much of the media coverage about the project.

Or you can create your own book swapping collective and do what we do in my apartment building's laundry room: people just started leaving books, magazines, CDs, videos, DVDs there for the taking. The unwritten rule is that you should give as much as you take. I have seen people on the elevator or in the neighbourhood coffee shop reading some of "my" books and I have gained a complete free collection of Jimi Hendrix, Oasis, and Cranberries CDs.

Call it "viral marketing" if you want to feel sophisticated but the important thing is that it's fun.


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posted by Michel-Adrien at 10:30 pm


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