Rural Librarian: July 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What is the Baltimore Book Thing?

The first time I heard about The Book Thing was from my mom who likes to cut out articles from The Baltimore Sun and send them to me. As soon as I read about The Book Thing in Baltimore, Maryland, I knew I had to go.

First the Bad Stuff

There are many things that may deter someone from visiting The Baltimore Book Thing. The building is located on Vineyard Lane just off 33rd Street in Waverly. It's a little hard to find. A recent visit was made when temperatures outside were in the mid-80s and I was made acutely aware of the fact that the Baltimore Book Thing has no air conditioning. If you go on a hot day you will smell yourself and everyone around you. But still, it is worthwhile. The Baltimore Book Thing is only open on Saturday and Sunday from 9am-6pm. Parking is limited.

All those deterrents aside, if you are a book junkie, you need to visit The Baltimore Book Thing. According to their website, The Baltimore Book Thing is the baby of a former bartender named Russell Wattenberg. The organization has been around Charm City since 1999 but moved to their current location sometime after 2005.

What's So Great About the Book Thing?

Free books. That's it, plain and simple. In the FAQ on The Book Thing website one of the questions and responses reads:

Is there a limit to how many books I can take?

You can only take 150,000 per day, per person. And they really mean it. I have filled up my car and my mom's car several times over with books to bring back to the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. The price means I can afford to be greedy.

The people who run The Book Thing are amazing at organizing their books. They are in subject sections just like a bookstore. They also do a great job of weeding out books that are in bad condition. I have never brought home a damaged book.

The Baltimore Book Thing gets books from all over the country. I took a class in the spring semester via the University of Tennessee Knoxville and one of my classmates works at a library in Tennessee where they ship all their unwanted books to The Baltimore Book Thing. Go Volunteers!

Multiple Copies of Book

Do you need a dozen of the same book for a book club? A recent visit revealed a box full of brand new copies of "To Kill a Mocking Bird" by Harper Lee. At the same time, I found a bunch of wonderful biographies that I had on my library's wish list. Sometimes, I feel like the book gods and goddesses are blessing me with the titles I seek. Book serendipity.

Find New Topics of Interest

Free books means that you can explore topics that maybe you were hesitant to dig into. I have recently started reading some biographies and true crime books (guilty pleasure) and was able to grab a box full at The Book Thing for free. My son has been hoarding books from The Book Thing by Stephen King and Isaac Asimov. When I am done with these books I can donate them to my library or the local Goodwill

Beware of Bullies

There is one more thing I need to tell you about The Baltimore Book Thing. It is about the time I visited last November. I was sitting on the rug underneath the children's book boxes digging through books just like every other person. (The rug, by the way, smells like cat pee. But still, it's worth it.) I glanced up at the shelf next to the boxes and saw two titles that were the same. The compulsive book sorter in me was forced to place the two titles together, you know, helpful like. Suddenly, there was a large, male presence over my shoulder. "M'am, please don't move the books." Really. I looked up and over my shoulder at the man standing over me with a big gut and a beard. I wanted to lay into him and let him know my bookie credentials. Doesn't this guy know I am practically the book queen of Randolph County, West Virginia? I took a deep breath. 'Free book, free books,' I said in my head a couple of times. I sucked it up and replied, "Oh. OK. I am sorry." Big beardy walked off, seemingly placated. It was a random chastisement that I will gladly pay in exchange for the number of free boxes of books that I have lugged back to Appalachia.

Free Boxes

And did I mention that The Book Thing has free boxes? Yeah, they do. As many as you need.

During the summertime, The Waverly Farmer's Market is just around the corner and super awesome. Normals, a collectively-owned and super-cool bookstore is also around the corner. Thank you, Book Thing of Maryland, for the hours of browsing, great conversations, fun people watching, and treasures scored. Free books, people. Book booty awaits you at the Baltimore Book Thing.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Level the Literacy Playing Field - Adopt a Library

OK, this is an idea that has been rolling around in my head for months.

First, back in February of this year I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Big Talks From Small Libraries, a free online conference sponsored by the Nebraska Library Commission and the Association for Rural and Small Libraries. One of the speakers was Rachel Reynolds Luster, a librarian in Missouri who was featured in a story on NPR in 2013. She said that she received thousands of cash and book donations from all over the country after that story aired on NPR. From this outpouring of love and cash, it reinforces, to me, that people LOVE libraries and only want to support them, especially in small, rural communities. But how can anyone support any library nationally?

Based on this story it came to my mind that it would be great if the American Library Association (or some other national library organization) hosted/sponsored/supported an Adopt-a-Library program nationally. This program would allow people from all over the world to pick and choose the state and/or library that they wanted to donate to. As library director in a small rural community, I am quite sure there are more people from West Virginia who live outside the state than inside it because of lack of job opportunities here. If there were a nationwide Adopt-a-Library program it would allow libraries in small regions with less tax base to level the literacy playing field. The Adopt-a-Library program could even be as simple as a site that has links to a wish list for every library on Amazon or the like.

Out of State Library Supporters

Also, I have an amazing library supporter in Wisconsin who sends me a few boxes of items every year. This library fan is from West Virginia but no longer lives here, but wanted to support literacy in her home state. So Barb W. (you know who you are, you amazing person, you) contacted the West Virginia Library Commission and asked them about a small "up and coming" library in WV who in turn recommended the Pioneer Library. (Thank you, WVLC!) Many people from West Virginia have to leave to find work. I'm willing to bet that this is the case with MANY small libraries around the United States.

I wrote my BIG IDEA to the ALA and received a kind response from Susan Brandehoff, the Director of Program Development and Partnerships who was encouraging. She also recommended getting in touch with the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies and I Love Libraries (an initiative of ALA). I also thought my idea might strike a chord with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL). I have librarian friends all over the country. Some have multi-million dollar budgets, others (like my own) have budgets under $35,000 per year. Smaller libraries with smaller budgets cannot compete nor provide the same services as larger libraries in wealthier tax bases. How can we level the library playing field so that every library has the same access to money and materials? Money and materials are the two things that make libraries go.

Who Wants To Have Their Library Adopted?

So there it is. People are passionate about libraries. People want to support libraries not just in their own communities. How can literacy and libraries continue to grow and thrive in small, impoverished parts of the United States? I know the West Virginia Library Commission is always pessimistic, "Prepare for budget cuts." This year West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin cut an entire line item in the state budget for special library projects. Times are tough, people. Let's pool our resources nationally, let's be a big supportive library team.

If we can find a national library organization willing to take this on, this could be an amazing place for little libraries to post their Amazon Wish Lists (it doesn't have to be connected with Amazon) and have complete and total strangers from all over the country (& world) who support libraries, literacy and lifelong learning buy items or contribute cash for your library. This could kind of be like Kickstarter for libraries. Let's do this people. Who's in?