Booklovers across the U.S. are jumping on the create-a-free-neighborhood-bookstore bandwagon (cliché intended). These entrepreneurs apply for grants, search for best locations, negotiate leases, and advertise for book donations. Newspapers applaud these entrepreneurs as if offering free books to the public is a new trend.
From 1883 to 1929 philanthropist Andrew Carnegie financed 2,500 libraries worldwide, with 1,600 libraries in the U.S. and more than 140 in California. One of those, the Livermore, California Carnegie Library built in 1910, served as a free bookstore until it became a museum and park. In summer, crowds push their way to vendors at farmers markets while musicians entertain at these free family events.
Now, a few miles south of Carnegie Park in this city of 85,000 residents, I have access to more than 228,000 free items including traditional books, ebooks, videos, and reference items. On my way to the Hold Room to pick up books I’ve requested online, I browse the art gallery. I stroll to the Reading Room and sink into a comfortable chair to enjoy current newspapers and magazines in solitude—another freebie—no subscriptions required. On my way to self checkout, I browse the new book sections to see what catches my eye.
My last stop is the Friends bookstore. As a supporting member, I receive twelve free books. I exceed that early in the year and buy dozens more novels at a pittance of the original hardcover retail price. My purchases help sponsor free art and author programs where I meet and mingle with local talent. These books are mine to keep, but I return them to the bookstore for resale or donate to other charitable fundraisers.
Looking for a free neighborhood bookstore? No need to reinvent the wheel (another intentional cliché). It’s called the public library.