Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Baltimore's "Free Books!" Charity in Dire Straits

By spiffariffic in Culture
Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 10:54:23 AM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

I spend anywhere from three to eight hours every week sweating along with a motley crew of local misfits, shelving, sorting, and hauling ton after ton of written matter in a rowhouse basement in Baltimore. We have no heat nor air conditioning, but still, every week, we come and work. Volunteer night is Wednesday, but many of us also work on the weekends, when we're open to the public. There are times when we're freezing and we have to wear coats and gloves inside, making handling books somewhat tricky; other times, we're all soaked with sweat, since it's 90 degrees out and the basement is thick with bodies. One learns to forget about personal space when working at The Book Thing, since you can scarcely breathe without bumping into someone, and we are all so accustomed to having to scrape by each other that most of us no longer bother to say "excuse me" unless some particularly dramatic brushing occurs.

Sponsor: rusty
This space intentionally left blank
...because it's waiting for your ad. So why are you still reading this? Come on, get going. Read the story, and then get an ad. Alright stop it. I'm not going to say anything else. Now you're just being silly. STOP LOOKING AT ME! I'm done!
comments (24)
active | buy ad
I have asthma and allergies, and I almost always have to leave because I start feeling sick, but it's worth it. The discomfort, the soreness, and the coughing--all worth it to me, and I relish every ache and sniffle. We give away all those books, you see, and nothing is better than that.

On a quiet day, we give away over 5,000 volumes. Our 'customers' are as diverse as our books, and our books come in every stripe; we have books on religion, self-help, carpentry, job training, computers, homemaking, cooking, child-rearing, psychology, mathematics, physics, science, foreign languages, literary theory, business, marketing. We have fiction and non-fiction, for every age and interest. We have magazines of every kind. The obscurity of some of the subjects we see will often cause us to laugh, but it's an oft-repeated truism among the volunteers that just as soon as you look at a book and wonder "Who on earth could want that?" someone will come in and be utterly delighted to find it, this thing they've been looking for forever. One man's rubbish truly is another man's treasure, and nowhere is it more evident than in the book-giving line of work.

Our books go everywhere. Many of our visitors take books for themselves, their children, and their families; many others come and take hundreds, even thousands away at a time, for schools, homeless shelters, prisons, and other institutions who have no money for books. We know that a goodly number of our books go out-of-state; one of our regulars, who also volunteers, takes boxes of children's books to his sister's school in, I believe, southern PA. Quite a few of our regulars mail books and magazines to their home countries, including South Africa and the Philippines.

My name is Amy. I am a 20-year-old girl trying to make it in Baltimore City. I am a bibliophile. And I need your help.

* * *

Books, for me, are a sensual as well as intellectual experience--bookstores, especially used bookstores, are favorite haunts of mine. I've been a book lover since I was a small child; I didn't just love the words, or the stories, or the fantastic facts contained inside, I loved the vessels themselves. I loved their pages, the curly intricacies of the type, the comfortable weight of a book in my hand, the smell of the paper and ink and binding. Repeating my mother, as young children are wont to do before they learn to come up with their own opinions, I would tell adults, "I'm a voracious reader." It was true, and I often had my nose in a book. The fact that I only ever had one true friend in childhood could have been a contributing factor to my five-book-a-week habit, or maybe it was a symptom and not a cause.

I don't remember exactly how I found out about The Book Thing. "A place that gives away books?" I thought to myself, "Nirvana." So my best friend and I took a trip down there one day, not knowing what to expect. It was like coming home to a place I always remembered in my bones but had not yet been, and it insinuated itself so fully into my consciousness that it's hard to think of a time when I didn't volunteer there. I have gained so much by giving my time, not only in books and the friendship of Russell and the other volunteers. I've learned things that make me a better--or at least, wiser--person.

There's a saying, "If you love something, set it free." People assume this applies only to people and animals, but giving of yourself is an experience unlike any other. You don't know how truly rich you are until you are willing to open your hands and give away what you hold dear, whether it's your time, your sweat, your happiness, or your possessions. In mahayana Buddhism, the loving-kindness meditations are supposed to help you realize what you yourself can gain by feeling compassion and wishing happiness for everyone, giving away what we are naturally inclined to hold selfishly close to us. Giving, and feeling compassion, doesn't just help the recipient of your good will... it helps you, too, which makes you a happier and better person, which affects those you have contact with, which makes them happier, better people, and so on. I have learned this firsthand through my involvement with The Book Thing, and I've reaped the rewards of having convictions, of working on something I believe in, something that I feel betters the world and everyone it touches. We have the opportunity to open our hands and give away not just books, but the love of books, and a feeling of hope because there are people out there who will devote themselves selflessly to helping others.

Everyone who sees what we do says "I'm glad somebody is doing this." People smile, eyes shining, when they descend tentatively those three enormous steps and wander into the basement and realize everything in here is free. Russell teases people who leave with only a handful of books--or worse, no books at all. "Is that all?" he ribs, "You need to be greedier."  We do so love to see our babies leaving, the eager looks in the eyes of their new owners, excited to get home and enjoy whatever little treasure they found among the piles. You can never really count on finding what you want, but you often find something you didn't even know you were looking for.

Unfortunately, one of the other lessons I've learned is that when people say "I'm glad somebody is doing this," the unspoken ending to the sentence is "other than me." It's a great thing, but I can't help. Don't have the time, sorry. Can't lift boxes, bad back, sorry. You know I'd love to, but, but, but.  While we get more books than we can handle, there are few volunteers, and we're always struggling for money. Giving away books to those who want and need them may not be as critical as feeding the hungry, but we still think it's an important mission. It hurts me that others don't seem to feel the same.

* * *

When you come to The Book Thing of Baltimore, you'll find yourself standing in an unfinished, 950-square-foot Baltimore row house basement filled to the breaking point with books and bodies. If not for the hand-painted red sandwich board signs proclaiming "FREE BOOKS!" we'd go completely unnoticed.

Going around the back of the row house, you have to descend three very tall, unwieldy steps into a little alcove, and from there into the cramped space of The Book Thing proper. The basement is wall-to-wall books; books in metal shelves, wooden shelves, shelves attached to wherever there is space, in the most unlikely places. Books in boxes, in clear plastic trays, in unsteady piles on the floor, stacked two or three deep on the shelves where possible. Some of the "aisles" aren't even passable since they are so full of books on that subject; they reach the ceiling, shoved between the pipes and wiring. I once pulled books out of an unused metal duct, where they had accidentally been crammed; there are always books underfoot. Every day there are book avalanches--it's just an unavoidable fact of life at The Book Thing.

We're a very informal operation. Russell Wattenburg, the founder, is a gruff, grumpy man who gives the impression of an out-of-work trucker. Rotund, bearded, often grubby, he is intimidating--and the last person you'd expect to be a champion of literature. He spends his days holed up in his tiny corner of the basement, on an elderly computer, trying to hustle funding and arrange large pick-ups and drop-offs.  A native of Baltimore, and far from being a sophisticate, he remains among the books and dust, trying to keep his Thing running. But Russell has a soft side, and that's what led him to do something so humanitarian; his curmudgeonly outlook is simply part and parcel of operating a perennially struggling non-profit. I've come to proudly count him as a friend.

I've come to be friends with the other volunteers, too, some of them people who stand out as misfits, some of them people who seem to interact better with the written word than their fellow humans. But whatever our differences, we have our passion for books--for reading them, and for giving them to others--in common. We talk and laugh like old friends while we slave in the stacks. There's Mark, Diane, Dale, Gabriel, Mike, Les, the professor, and a handful of others whose faces I know but whose names escape me. We have a warm sense of being united in the same cause.

Volunteering at The Book Thing is a serious physical endeavor. Not only is most of what needs to be done physical labor--hauling boxes and boxes of books in and around, shifting hundreds of pounds every day--but the environment requires you to be careful, attentive, and surefooted. For several weeks straight, I worked in the business section, where there was a three foot high pile of books in addition to what was on the shelves. I had to forego my view of books as sacrosanct objects, and stand on top of the shifting pile to reach the highest shelves in a desperate attempt to make more room, to get those books off the floor. There are always piles of books that fall, or almost fall, and books on the floor to be dodged. Many a regular has been hit in the head by such an avalanche. Last Sunday I helped a diminutive young woman clamber out from the foreign languages section, where she'd been bricked in by boxes and trays of books that we were bringing inside. I offered her my hand and told her, "Booksurfing--not recommended. Take my word on it." Having fallen several times, I spoke from experience. I later heard her repeating that warning to someone else.

* * *

Despite all these good things, despite "I'm so glad someone is doing this," we're faced with having to close. The building we've been located in, the basement of which we rent, has been sold. Any day, the new owner can evict us, as he hasn't committed to letting us rent the basement for the $235 a month we've been paying. And anyway, we are suffering great pains from being in such a cramped location, without bathrooms, air circulation or even heat; a person in a wheelchair, or who walked with braces, could never hope to see the inside. I'm in a panic. I love The Book Thing so much, I love being able to do what we do so much, that I would be utterly heartbroken if we had to close over something so seemingly trivial. What's more, Baltimore would lose out, as clearly demonstrated by the twenty-thousand-some books we give away every weekend.

We need to find a new location to rent, and we haven't had any luck. We are poor--what can I say, books are nobody else's priority--and we need to find a location for free or very cheap. We need several thousand square feet, handicap access, a bathroom, heat, and ideally air conditioning. We're doing everything we can, canvassing maps and making phone calls, asking everyone we know; I've personally been contacting the neighborhood associations driving the revitalization of Baltimore, seeing if any of them have any ideas. So far, we've come up with a big fat zero.

If you have any ideas, or contacts, or best yet, a location to offer us, please let me know.

Further reading:

  • Baltimore Sun - Recent story about losing our location.
  • NPR - Highly recommended audio story on TBT, including an interview with Russell; scroll down to Book Donations. Thanks Rusty, I forgot about this.
  • The Book Thing - Our web site, again.
  • The Book Thing - Our press clippings page.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o The Book Thing
o Baltimore Sun
o The Book Thing [2]
o Also by spiffariffic

Display: Sort:
Baltimore's "Free Books!" Charity in Dire Straits | 148 comments (82 topical, 66 editorial, 4 hidden)
You should (3.00 / 8) (#5)
by thepictsie on Wed Aug 25, 2004 at 06:58:21 PM EST

Try sending this (or the original version) to Neil Gaiman and asking him to post it in his blog. He'll probably do it, and you'll be inundated with offers of help. You send it in by posting it to the FAQ, here, and the blog is here. He, and his readership, love this sort of thing.

Look, a distraction!

Thank you! (none / 0) (#7)
by spiffariffic on Wed Aug 25, 2004 at 07:03:39 PM EST

Thank you thank you thank you for this idea! I got my original story posting (which was from my blog) posted on Boing Boing, and was disappointed at how little response I got (one email). Maybe Gaiman's readers will be more interested.

[ Parent ]
you're welcome (none / 0) (#52)
by thepictsie on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 07:26:38 AM EST

I'm sorry so many people are being dicks to you on this one. I don't get it, myself.

Look, a distraction!
[ Parent ]

"dicks" is the operative here [nt] (none / 0) (#83)
by Lode Runner on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 12:22:40 PM EST

[ Parent ]
I've Just Linked to This...Thanks! (none / 0) (#140)
by modgoddess on Tue Aug 31, 2004 at 10:33:41 PM EST

I've just linked to this at our weblog at zuzu.com. I hope it helps as you perform a great service!

[ Parent ]
hmm (3.00 / 15) (#12)
by reklaw on Wed Aug 25, 2004 at 08:03:27 PM EST

"I am a bibliophile."

No need to worry! Kuro5hin dot org welcomes all kinds of philes.

On the author's behalf (1.80 / 5) (#15)
by debacle on Wed Aug 25, 2004 at 08:37:21 PM EST

I'd like to know that though he/she is a nullo, she/he has been around since before the great rustina exodus, which means that more than likely his/her intent is good.

+1 FP, not an ad.

It tastes sweet.

Note, even (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by debacle on Wed Aug 25, 2004 at 08:43:09 PM EST

WTF was I thinking?

It tastes sweet.
[ Parent ]
Thanks :) and I'm a chick. n/t (none / 1) (#17)
by spiffariffic on Wed Aug 25, 2004 at 10:02:56 PM EST

[ Parent ]
please move to vote (1.00 / 17) (#26)
by Paul Harvey on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 01:23:44 AM EST

i can't wait to rip this one in with a -1.

And now you know ... the rest of the story.
GODDAMMIT I HAD TO VOTE +1 FP JUST (2.33 / 3) (#27)
by Paul Harvey on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 01:33:19 AM EST

BECAUSE OF THE "DIRE STRAITS" WORDS IN THE TOPIC. Mark Knopfler is my favorite guitarist.

And now you know ... the rest of the story.
[ Parent ]
Ha. Evil plot is a success! n/t (none / 0) (#28)
by spiffariffic on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 01:35:13 AM EST

[ Parent ]
so how's being a chick working out for you? (1.50 / 8) (#33)
by Paul Harvey on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 02:11:00 AM EST

And now you know ... the rest of the story.
[ Parent ]
I used to do this (1.80 / 5) (#31)
by Trolling For Columbine on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 02:00:21 AM EST

And, dammit, all you need are books and word-of-mouth. Don't romanticise it. We pushed 500 books a month with one storefront and a meter-by-meter table.

It sounds like you are warehousing, not giving them away. Why do you need to shift hundreds of books? Don't people want them? If there is a stack you haven't moved in a few weeks, they are junk.

Tip: coloring books. No joke. Kids still love them. In B'more there is a chain called Value City where you can get them cheap. Get the kids hooked and they will bring their folks.

500 a month? (3.00 / 5) (#32)
by spiffariffic on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 02:05:43 AM EST

We give away 20,000 books a week. You really can't compare the two operations.

[ Parent ]
No clue... (none / 0) (#34)
by spiffariffic on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 02:33:39 AM EST

Unfortunately, I don't think there's any kind of book-giveaway underground network we could join.

But you could always start one, yourself. :)

Er. Not sure how that wasn't a reply. n/t (none / 0) (#35)
by spiffariffic on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 02:34:46 AM EST

[ Parent ]
bookcrossing (none / 1) (#118)
by jefu on Fri Aug 27, 2004 at 08:27:42 PM EST

Sure there is. bookcrossing.com

[ Parent ]
Joined two days ago. <nt> (none / 0) (#121)
by Vesperto on Sat Aug 28, 2004 at 05:21:07 PM EST

If you disagree post, don't moderate.
Not a Premium User.
[ Parent ]
The distributed library project... (none / 0) (#135)
by bfoo on Mon Aug 30, 2004 at 11:26:58 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Have you considered a distributed solution? (2.00 / 2) (#39)
by Harold F Cummingsworth on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 03:36:18 AM EST

Computing is not the only field to have the opportunity to distribute a large load over many willing participants. I suggest you find small empty spaces around your inner city location of operation, and place stacks of books there. Since you are giving them away anyway, theft will not be an issue, and since the minimum space need only have a footprint the size of an A4 page it should not be difficult to find locations.

Imagine your association not locked to one inconvenient, hot, allergy causing warehouse, but instead spread out through the more pleasant parts of Baltimore? A map could be kept detailing exactly what is stored where, and if the vagabonds who use your service need a particular volume (instead of a general meth-filter or fuel for a fire) directions to the specific cache could be given in a jiffy. The convenience of only having to look on top of the nearest rubbish bin for potential reading material would far outweigh any concerns about keeping track of locations.

Incidentally, I have just recieved 6 gmail invites and my acquaintances all have accounts already! If you need one, just post a reply with a funny joke about catholics and the 6 funniest will win an invite!

The "pleasant" parts of baltimore (none / 1) (#42)
by odano on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 04:48:25 AM EST

As a DC Metro Area resident, I would implore anybody to find a "pleasant" part of baltimore.

(With the possibly exception of the inner harbor, although the cheasapeake fouls the area with its horrible smell)

Stockton Computer Repair | Biggest US Cities
[ Parent ]

Lots of nice places (none / 0) (#67)
by spiffariffic on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 11:05:24 AM EST

There are lots of really nice places in Baltimore, but like any city, crime can happen anywhere. TBT is currently located in Charles Village, which is about as pleasant as it gets. I live in Patterson Park, which is quite nice (at least my block is), and the whole Highlandtown/Greektown/Canton area is pretty nice.

The thing with B'more, though, is it can vary from street to street and even block to block. And some of the things which make parts of the city "not nice" to suburbanites really don't bother us at all. I'll take them over the sterile wasteland of suburbia any day.

[ Parent ]

What about... (none / 0) (#88)
by strangebeer on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 01:26:56 PM EST

Druid Hill, rep-rah-ZENT!

Not really. Druid Hill scares me.

[ Parent ]
Distributed solutions (none / 0) (#119)
by daedion on Sat Aug 28, 2004 at 06:14:43 AM EST

Interesting solution, but wouldnt it be difficult to track exactly what was where. And this isnt /. so I wont suggest a new variant on the "Carrier Pigeon RFC", say the "Vagabond Hierarchical Storage Protocol RFC"

Still it would build in resilience to fire, as long as no one burns the entire city

And if you want a joke about catholics, consider the average catholic who hasnt been to church since Xmas or Easter, and barely has a nodding acquaintance with their faith, amusing given their quoted numbers of 'Catholics' I should know I am one

[ Parent ]
Catholic jokes (none / 0) (#123)
by SadPanda on Sat Aug 28, 2004 at 07:27:27 PM EST

Submitted for your approval: two "catholic" jokes. Dun dun DUN!

On the pope's last visit to New York, he was riding in his limo and he asked the driver if he could take the wheel for a while. The driver thought this was an odd request but be stopped and changed places with the pope.
The pontiff pulled onto the freeway and began to open it up. After a while he was doing 90 mph and saw the blue flashing lights in the rear mirror.
When the officer pulled up and looked over the situation he radioed his sergeant for instructions.
"Sarge, I have a very important person pulled over for speeding and I don't know what to do. "
"Who is it, Kennedy again?" asked the superior officer.
"No! This one is really important!"
"Who is it? The chief of the UN?"
"No, *really* important!"
"The Mayor?"
"Even more important than that!"
"The governor?"
"Sarge, you won't believe this. I don't know who he is, but he must be damned important! He has the pope as a chauffeur."


A Catholic nun -- Sr. Mary-Louise -- asks her 4th grade class what they'd like to be when they grow up. She first asks Claire...
"I wanna be an astronaut!"
"Oh, that's a fine, fine career, Claire," the sister responds. "And you, Jimmy?"
"I wanna be a firefighter!"
"Another fine idea, Jimmy.  And you, Patricia?  What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"I wanna be a prostitute!"
Visibly shaken, the sister manages: "I....I don't think I heard you correctly, Patricia! You said you want to be a WHAT??!?!"
"A prostitute."
"OH!", sighs Sr. Mary-Louise with relief.  "Thank the Lord. I thought you said you wanted to be a Protestant!"

[ Parent ]

Mapping the Book Thing (none / 0) (#134)
by davidduncanscott on Mon Aug 30, 2004 at 03:51:19 PM EST

I think you're missing the way the Book Thing works. I love the place, but my wife won't go there because she ends up walking on books, and it feels like a slaughter house to her (me, I call it hog heaven.)

There is some attempt at organization, in the sense that most of the computer books, for instance, are on the same shelves, but nothing is cataloged. The volunteers have their hands full just getting all the books inside out of the weather.

Thanks, spiffariffic, for helping out. I'm too lazy to volunteer, but i have taken some books away (and passed a couple on to others, for that matter.)

[ Parent ]

Another catholic joke (none / 0) (#138)
by mmaddox on Tue Aug 31, 2004 at 01:20:50 PM EST

So, the Pope's sitting out in his garden, thinking impure thoughts and stroking the papal pecker. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a tourist appears and starts rapidly snapping photos. The Pope leaps up, trying to compose himself, and rushes toward the tourist.

"You CAN'T leave here with those! Think what it would do to the faith!" he implores.

The tourist smirks and replies, "$10,000 for the camera."

"What?! That's ridiculous! Think of your faith, man! Think of the church!"

"$10,000, " comes the reply.

Flummoxed, the Pope retreats to his chambers with the tourist, where he creates a Papal writ authorizing $10,000 to be paid. The tourist smiles, leaves the camera, and goes on his way.

Later, a cardinal is speaking with the Pope in his chambers when he notices the camera...

"Nice camera! What is it, the new Nikon?" he asks.

The Pope just mutters.

"Pretty cool," he says, looking it over. "What'd it cost?"

"$10,000," says the Pope, rolling his eyes.

"$10,000!?" responds the cardinal. "They must have seen you coming!"

Thank you. Thank you. Be sure to tip your bartenders.


[ Parent ]

And yet ANOTHER Catholic Joke (none / 0) (#139)
by mmaddox on Tue Aug 31, 2004 at 01:30:04 PM EST

Young Sister Agnes is a busy member of the convent, working hard all day at the parish school. After a long day playing with the children, she tends to come in hot, sweaty, and absolutely exhausted.

One day, it seemed hotter than normal, the children that much more rambunctious, and she much, much more tired. She returned to her room, removed her habit and flopped, quite beat, on her cot.

"Beep!" The convent intercom rang. "Sister Agnes?" came a voice, "The blind man is here to see you."

"Crap," thought Sister Agnes in a most un-nunlike manner, and she began dressing in the far-too-itchy robes her order required.

"Waitaminnit..." she thought. "He's BLIND. I can see him anywhere, and, as long as I don't TOUCH him, or go anywhere anyone might SEE me..."

"Could you send him to my chambers?" Sister Agnes replied into the intercom. "I'm a bit...um...busy, and I'll just receive him here."

She quickly disrobes again, pours a cup of cool water, and awaits her visitor.

After a moment, there's a knock at her door. She composes herself and opens it to meet the eyes of a young man wearing a uniform. He stares, bug-eyed. He looks down, then up, then down, then up again, and says, "Nice tits. Where should I hang the blinds?"

Thanks again. I'll be playing here every night this week.


[ Parent ]

distributed = trashed (none / 0) (#143)
by nh1 on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 03:24:39 AM EST

> I suggest you find small empty spaces around your inner city location of operation, and place stacks of books there.

Dumb idea. They would most likely end up in the trash. Books are not interchangeable, as the original post said, they sort their books at least roughly into categories. I often see piles of books placed next to the trash near my home by people who want to give them away, but the vast majority just end up trashed because they're not the type of book I or other passersby want to read. If stacked in the appropriate place where someone who wants that kind of book has a chance of finding it, they probably would find a new home.

[ Parent ]

Catholic joke from Mexico (none / 0) (#148)
by Diccionario on Sun Sep 05, 2004 at 10:13:44 PM EST

A Spanish-language joke I received from Mexico. It has been adapted many times with an Anglo setting. AFAIK, this is the original, or close to it.

A Catholic priest baptizes a Mexican Indian and gives him instructions on how to lead a new life as a Catholic.

Priest sprinkles water on the Indian's head and says: "Ego te baptizo in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. From this day forth, you are a child of God and your name is no longer Toltecatl. You will now be known as Tomas. On Fridays, you will eat no meat. Instead, you must eat fish? Do you understand?"

Tomas answers: "Yes, Father. Me good catholic. On Friday me no eat meat. Me eat fish."

After chatting a while with his new convert, the satisfied priest continues his rounds. One month later on a Friday, the priest happens to be near Tomas' village, so he decidea to pay him a visit. Imagine his surprise to find Tomas calmly roasting a lamb.

" Hello, Tomas," said the priest.

"Why, hello, Father!"

"I'm so glad to see you again. Do you remember what day it is today?"

"Oh yes, Father. Me good Catholic. Today Friday. No eat meat. Today Fish Day!!!"

"That's right, my son. So what are you roasting there?"

Tomas immediately answered: "Oh! No problem, Father. Me put river water on lamb's head and say: 'Now you name not lamb. Now you name fish!'"

This joke is a reference to a real animal, the capybara, a water-dwelling South American rodent which was declared a fish so that its flesh could be eaten during Lent:

The standard widely-copied reference is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capybara

There are lots of pictures and more details here: http://www.rebsig.com/capybara/


[ Parent ]

Sounds like communism to me (1.10 / 30) (#40)
by foon on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 03:58:38 AM EST

I've got to admit, since you are giving away legally reproduced physical copies of these books, you aren't actually in violation of any copyright laws. But what you're doing is nonetheless completely inimical to the values of American free enterprise and symptomatic of the liberal welfare mentality that is responsible for the decline of our once-great country. Furthermore, you are undermining the many entrepreneurs who are trying to make a living actually selling used books at market prices. These people who take these books for free aren't learning anything about hard work and individual responsibility; it just perpetuates the dependency on handouts that characterizes the poor today. If your average unemployed welfare bum wants a new pulp horror or romance novel to read, they don't have to get in line at the temp agency or even panhandle on the street for a few hours, because its free. Thats not how it should be. People don't need handouts, they need encouragement to work for themselves and participate in the great American free enterprise system.

Yeah, it's worrying (3.00 / 5) (#44)
by rob1 on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 05:25:29 AM EST

to think of those inner city kids reading free books, as though you could just get information for nothing. I wonder what it will teach them about how the world works?

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we. -- GWB
[ Parent ]

Emphasizing "inner city" == racist (1.00 / 11) (#54)
by Harold F Cummingsworth on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 08:27:46 AM EST

I'm reading your comment, and it sounds like an interesting topic for discussion, but any productive conversation we could have can't happen now, because of your racism in noting the "inner city" status of the kids.

Why emphasize that fact? How is it possibly relevant? Whether you realize it or not, you're just playing on society's deeply rooted prejudices about how inner-city residents just can't learn because they're too stupid or too black. It's a disgrace.

If you're going to provide an effective defence for these people, then you first must overcome the prejudices and patronizing tone you've apparently adopted. No one wants to be talked down to, and if you try sticking up for these kids with an attitude that they are "different" from and "inferior" to you, then they will be only further discouraged and offended. Remember, these communities have enough problems without having to deal with your white guilt or misplaced social intentions.

[ Parent ]

Clever troll, almost got you deleted. -nt- (none / 0) (#107)
by wobblywizard on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 06:58:28 PM EST

[ Parent ]
I think you should start paying for this site.. (3.00 / 6) (#50)
by kamera on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 07:02:15 AM EST

That's assuming a hardworking, upright individual like yourself doesn't already feel obligated to hand rusty $4 a month to use his site. Come on, anyone who uses this site for free is basically a handout loving communist.

"Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live." -- Oscar Wilde
[ Parent ]

different (2.75 / 4) (#85)
by runderwo on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 12:31:38 PM EST

1. There is a cycle of dependency associated with receiving food, clothing, and shelter for free. Receiving food, clothing, or shelter today doesn't provide anything towards the food, clothing, and shelter that will be necessary tomorrow. Books, on the other hand, are not consumables and not essential. They are still around after they are read, and can be passed on to other people. They are also not essential to survival, so when the supply is cut off, it's not a catastrophe like it is to the person who shows up hungry to a soup kitchen which has been closed.

2. This is private charity. This is people choosing to redistribute their wealth to others by their own free will, and not forced by the guns of government. This is the way charity should be.

[ Parent ]

So what you're saying is... (none / 0) (#112)
by CAIMLAS on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 10:54:42 PM EST

So you're saying we should close down public libraries? The same rhetoric can be used to argue the same thing in that case, as well. Yes, yes, I know. You're trolling...

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.
[ Parent ]

Karl Marx didn't invent helping your neighbor (nt) (none / 1) (#117)
by drivers on Fri Aug 27, 2004 at 07:52:31 PM EST

I think Bruce Perens said that on "Revolution OS."

[ Parent ]
Communism? NOT! (none / 0) (#144)
by bkeeler on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 03:59:22 PM EST

Communism is about taking, not giving. Just ask anyone who's had their house "expropriated" in a communist revolution.

...until the word "Maudling" is almost completely obscured.
[ Parent ]

Perhaps you're thinking of Totalitarianism? (none / 0) (#145)
by toganet on Sat Sep 04, 2004 at 09:31:12 AM EST

Johnson's law: Systems resemble the organizations that create them.

[ Parent ]
Um.. Amy... (1.46 / 13) (#51)
by asdfqwertygh on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 07:17:32 AM EST

Would you like to er.. maybe... go out for coffee sometime? I mean, I'm sure... I'm sure a lot of K5ers can vouch for now nice a guy I am... So like... what do you say?

Circle your answer: (3.00 / 6) (#55)
by misfit13b on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 09:02:19 AM EST

        YES         NO

[ Parent ]
OK... (2.66 / 9) (#78)
by spiffariffic on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 11:47:41 AM EST

I circled my answer, but changed my mind.

How do I get this white-out off my screen now? :(

I can't see anything!

[ Parent ]

too specific-city-an! (1.12 / 8) (#62)
by dimaq on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 10:46:41 AM EST

besides being addicted to books is still being addicted to someting :))

Great work you're doing! (2.33 / 3) (#79)
by boxed on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 11:47:47 AM EST

I've just started to realize what a shame it is that my own books lay unused on the shelves and I'm in the proccess of finding people to give them to :P

Yay! Don't forget schools/prisons/shelters. :) n/t (none / 1) (#99)
by spiffariffic on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 03:31:07 PM EST

[ Parent ]
or libraries [nt] (none / 0) (#114)
by boxed on Fri Aug 27, 2004 at 08:42:31 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Small charge (2.50 / 2) (#84)
by strangebeer on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 12:27:33 PM EST

20,000 books a weekend at a 25 cents a book flat-rate (nearly free) is $5,000 a week. Next time I'm in Brawltimore I'm totally stopping by (I live in DC).

We will never charge or solicit donations here (2.50 / 2) (#97)
by spiffariffic on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 03:09:39 PM EST

Asked if he'd ever consider charging for his books--a dime, or even a penny--Wattenberg, as perhaps befits a guy who doesn't smoke menthols but keeps a pack of them in his pocket for bummers, is emphatic. "Never," he says. "That would ruin everything." -- City Paper
As Russell has said, charging for them means you're executing a "value judgement" on the book and the person. If people can't pay, we don't want to turn them away. Even if we're only soliciting donations at the location itself, that may make some people uncomfortable enough that they stay away. Our goal is to disseminate books, and if we fund ourselves in a way that deters 'customers,' then we've failed.

This is also why we don't get support from more mainstream charities. It's something I've looked into, and I've been told that we need a "message" that's more finely crafted than "give away books to anyone who wants them." We have to have a "target audience." Basically, they want us to come up with a marketing plan to exclude people, to narrow our focus, to make us worthy of their support.

[ Parent ]

Give what you can (none / 1) (#113)
by jotango on Fri Aug 27, 2004 at 03:52:39 AM EST

Why don't you ask people to give what they can? Most people might give 25 cents, some might give half an hour of their time or some books in exchange. Or some of the prisons receiving the books may bring prisoners to help you sort. By not soliciting donations of something, you may be missing out.

[ Parent ]
Because people would feel awkward (3.00 / 2) (#115)
by spiffariffic on Fri Aug 27, 2004 at 12:59:56 PM EST

If they couldn't pay, and would just as likely stay away. This is the problem with "give what you can" -- because of the guilt. We don't want to spread guilt, just books.

[ Parent ]
guilt is overrated (none / 1) (#116)
by Mindcrym on Fri Aug 27, 2004 at 02:50:51 PM EST

So why not have a mail-in-only donation policy?  No customer will ever be handing you money over the counter.  Everyone can still come in and take what they want and there's noone there to pester them for money as they leave the store, therefore no guilt.


[ Parent ]

confused (none / 0) (#128)
by majik on Mon Aug 30, 2004 at 01:17:23 AM EST

You're so afraid of scaring a few people away, that you're willing to have your operation completely shut down because of a total lack of funds? Does that sound like a good thing?
Funky fried chickens - they're what's for dinner
[ Parent ]
Pay as you feel is viable (none / 0) (#141)
by paperd on Wed Sep 01, 2004 at 12:56:02 PM EST

All charities and volunteer groups must be viable. For you to reach out to a wider variety of people AND get more volunteers, funding is necessary.

And getting people to pay as they *feel* they want to is an excellent suggestion to fund your organization. Guilt is not a factor because if you explain it well in your mission, people who believe in your cause will donate. People who can't or won't must be made to feel that it's okay - the point is the books is more important than the money.

With more money you can get a better location, better conditions, more volunteers and reach even more people.

Let me give you an example. There is this little restaurant in Singapore who serves food on a menu without price. Everything that is served is run by volunteers - from the cooks, to the food (donated by markets), to the waiters and staff. You pay as you feel you want to pay - and it works. Nobody is obligated to feel that they can't pay what they can't afford. Nobody is turned away.

Their mission is explained here more clearly than I ever could: Annalakshmi

When I was a student I paid less when I visited it. When I started working I paid more when I visited. I'm not particularly into Indian arts, but I appreciate their sincere effort.

[ Parent ]
Incredibly stupid question (none / 0) (#86)
by chadjohnson on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 12:32:58 PM EST

I feel dumb for missing an obvious answer, but I couldn't find one in the post, nor on bookthing.org.

Is there something wrong with the Baltimore County Public Library? Maybe I'm alone, but why buy* the cow when you get the books for free?

*(or undertake gargantuan efforts to give away)

My experience (3.00 / 3) (#87)
by jolly st nick on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 12:47:53 PM EST

Is that libraries are usually not interested in taking used books, except for book sales.

They have their own priorities for acquisition. Furthermore, they want books with library bindings.

I have a collection of 20th century Japanese literature by guys like Tanizaki, Kawabata, Mishima and the like. They're in good shape, and I haven't dipped into them in a number of years. In many ways, if I could get the library to accept them and put them into circulation, it would be cool: I could take them out whenever I got the hankering to reread them, and the library would get a nice little collection in an area of literature they're pretty thin in. But realistically, the library doesn't have a 20th century Japanese lit collection because there aren't enough interested people to justify the shelf space; and these volumes wouldn't last long in circulation if there were. The library would certainly take my nice little collection and put them all in the annual book sale, and anything that didn't move would go to the trash. So, there they sit on my shelf, getting me into trouble with my wife.

[ Parent ]

Oh la la (none / 0) (#136)
by QualpaQua on Tue Aug 31, 2004 at 06:01:22 AM EST

Japanese books? I'd love to relieve you of your burden for I share the interest, however I cannot imagine it became one in the first place.

Have read a few dozens (well two at least) of these books, Tanizaki, Kawabata, Oe (1994 Nobel prize), Akutagawa, Mishima, Kobo, Dazai and so forth. Have collection of haiku poetry and some older stuff, not this yet.

Any chance of shipping accross the pond? London, UK, would pay the shipping costs plus some reasonable amount - spares me the effort of building exactly the same collection myself.

Send an e-mail if it makes sense, I created an account here specifically for this post (preferred to watch the trolls from safe distance so far).

[ Parent ]

Why libraries aren't good enough (3.00 / 8) (#96)
by spiffariffic on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 03:04:48 PM EST

No, it's not a bad question. First of all, we're not in Baltimore County, we're in Baltimore City, which is a completely separate principality -- and while the Co. is well-funded, the City is not.

There are several other reasons:

  • You have to have a permanent address in order to borrow books from the library. This prohibits homeless and transient people from having long-term access to the books.
  • You have to provide suitable ID for libraries
  • Fully 2/3rds of our books go to institutions like homeless shelters and prisons and schools for their libraries (to keep)
  • What is available in libraries is censored, not only in the traditional sense, but they have limited space and funds as well so they can only keep popular material on hand
  • Also, we have a bit of a love/hate relationship with libraries since the bureaucracy strictly prohibits them from giving away books they are done with and can't sell. So what happens to all those books? They are thrown out or shredded. Libraries destroy thousands of books every year that they could donate to us or directly to needy places. This aggravates us, as you might understand.
For more info, you can read this article.

[ Parent ]
why can't you arrange a sale? (none / 0) (#120)
by Rahaan on Sat Aug 28, 2004 at 11:28:50 AM EST

Also, we have a bit of a love/hate relationship with libraries since the bureaucracy strictly prohibits them from giving away books they are done with and can't sell. So what happens to all those books? They are thrown out or shredded. Libraries destroy thousands of books every year that they could donate to us or directly to needy places. This aggravates us, as you might understand.
Why can't you negotiate some deal where you'd buy all of their extra books for a dollar?  That bureaucracy comment sounds vaguely like a bunch of other places such as Starbucks, which prohibits employees from giving out food, even though they have to throw it out if it's unsold for a certain period of time.  With an actual sale and the understanding of everyone involved that what you'd be doing with the books actually makes sense (ie, you're not just taking books from the library), it doesn't seem like anyone would try to stop you.

you know, jake.. i've noticed that, since the tacos started coming, the mail doesn't so much come as often, or even at all
[ Parent ]
Because they wouldn't do it? (none / 0) (#125)
by spiffariffic on Sat Aug 28, 2004 at 07:59:51 PM EST

The bureaucracy that won't let us HAVE the books is not going to sell them all to us for $1. That's the thing. It's fucking bureaucracy, it has no sense or compassion.

Anyway, a good number of the books from libraries come to us via covert means. Lowly librarians thwartin' the system.

[ Parent ]

hmm (none / 0) (#126)
by Rahaan on Sun Aug 29, 2004 at 06:08:06 PM EST

The bureaucracy that won't let us HAVE the books is not going to sell them all to us for $1. That's the thing.
That sounds like an assumption on your part.
It's fucking bureaucracy, it has no sense or compassion.

Anyway, a good number of the books from libraries come to us via covert means. Lowly librarians thwartin' the system.

I think you don't quite understand the tao of bureaucracy.  That's okay, as you are young, and must learn.  Here we go:

the bureaucracy has no sense or compassion.  the bureaucracy has utmost sense and total compassion.  It is this duality of bureaucracy which you must embrace.

Where would we be without bureaucracy?  well.. you'd have your books.  Great.  There also wouldn't be any libraries.  

you know, jake.. i've noticed that, since the tacos started coming, the mail doesn't so much come as often, or even at all
[ Parent ]

There's a difference (none / 0) (#131)
by spiffariffic on Mon Aug 30, 2004 at 12:07:29 PM EST

... between government and bureaucracy. Government does good things (much of the time), bureaucracy in government (and other institutions) inhibits the doing of good things. Bureaucracy is setting out "positive" laws that say how you must do things, instead of creating much fewer "negative" laws only that say what you must not do and otherwise letting you get on with it. Government requires individual judgement and therefore individual responsibility; bureaucracy seeks to be perfectly equal to everyone in all situations and therefore removes both through legislation. Bureaucracy is the source of three strikes laws that put away someone for life for his third offense of stealing a few video tapes, and for zero tolerance, and for the ridiculousness of the "drug war," and so on.

Bureaucracy, for example, is what prevented Mother Teresa's organization from taking over a run down building in NYC and converting it into temporary living quarters for homeless people, because the law said all new housing being redone or built from the ground up in buildings over four stories must have elevators. The elevators added another $100,000 to their cost. The homeless people would no doubt have appreciated this housing, despite the lack of elevators, but the city "could not" bend the rules (bureaucracy at work, no individual judgement/responsibility allowed) and so the place wasn't built because $100k is an awful lot of unplanned-for overage when you're trying to take care of homeless people.

Bureaucracy fucks shit up and we all lose out.

[ Parent ]

Destroying books? (none / 0) (#142)
by blaaf on Thu Sep 02, 2004 at 04:03:02 PM EST

I've never heard of this before, but that would indeed be horrible. Every library I've been involved with before has put books on sale, sometimes by the pound, when they wanted to get rid of them. And then gave away leftovers. Here in Philadelphia the Free Library has an affiliated used bookstore that sells books for them, including old/extra books from the library, with all profits going to the library.

Also someone mentioned that their library wouldn't take used book donations. That's a shame, too. At the library of UPenn (Van Pelt), I once donated a used copy of a novel that was missing, and a paperback at that. They processed it and it was up on the shelf within a week or two, and has circulated several times. They buy most of their books new but they certainly take donations, and this is a well-funded, private library.

[ Parent ]

Is there something wrong with BCPL? Yes. (none / 0) (#108)
by KurtRaschke on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 07:11:21 PM EST

As a resident of Baltimore County and a user of BCPL 's Towson branch, I can tell you that the Towson branch is not exactly a superb library. It doesn't always have the most fresh (or broad) selection of books. Sure, it's better than no library, but more often than not I come away frustrated with BCPL. -Kurt

[ Parent ]
You know you're an extreme nerd... (none / 0) (#147)
by Guybrush Threepwood on Sat Sep 04, 2004 at 04:54:01 PM EST

... when you read BCPL and think "hmmm, here comes an analogy with BCPL and C".
-- Dont eat me. I'm a mighty pirate!
[ Parent ]
Kuro5hin's wonderful system at work. (1.40 / 5) (#109)
by RyoCokey on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 08:04:37 PM EST

Apparently, if you keep resubmitting the article, eventually people will stop voting it down.

The troops returning home are worried. "We've lost the peace," men tell you. "We can't make it stick
Similar Service in SF Bay Area? (none / 1) (#110)
by jamie on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 08:10:23 PM EST

Anyone know if there is something similar to The Book Thing in or around San Francisco?

Book Thing: Best thing since... (none / 1) (#111)
by deadcow on Thu Aug 26, 2004 at 09:01:51 PM EST

Well, anything, really. I used to slough down to Book Thing all the time...I remember once stuffing a cheesy romance novel into my pocket and sneaking it out because I didn't want anyone to know I got it.

I don't know of any spaces like the one you guys are looking for, Amy, but keep trying! I'd hate to live in a world with the knowledge that Book Thing was no longer around.

bookcrossing.com (none / 0) (#122)
by Vesperto on Sat Aug 28, 2004 at 05:32:49 PM EST

Somebody already said this, bookcrossing.com is another kind of book give-away system. Instead of stacking them in one place and giving them away, the owners themselves tag the books as free and "let them lose". Anyone can find a free book on a bus, a subway station, whatever; read it and set it free again.

It saves you money on the wharehouse rent.
If you disagree post, don't moderate.
Not a Premium User.

Dump them as litter instead? (none / 0) (#124)
by GenerationY on Sat Aug 28, 2004 at 07:47:52 PM EST

Someone has to clean up parkbenches, buses, subway stations etc.

[ Parent ]
Crowded places... (none / 0) (#129)
by Vesperto on Mon Aug 30, 2004 at 08:32:25 AM EST

....like buses, subway stations, cafés and some parks get cleaned at opening/closing hours and sometimes in between. If you leave a boon on the subday, there's a high probability somone in the next minutes will find it.
If you disagree post, don't moderate.
Not a Premium User.
[ Parent ]
Conflicted. (1.00 / 5) (#127)
by anticlimax on Mon Aug 30, 2004 at 01:05:52 AM EST

I've actually visited you guys on occasion, and I've even taken a few books.

I can't, however, sympathize with your plight. As much as I want to see you guys stay afloat, I long for the day when Baltimore finally implodes upon itself. In other words: fuck off.

Foreclosure Properties (none / 0) (#130)
by Cheerio Boy on Mon Aug 30, 2004 at 10:38:00 AM EST

Just a quick thought here - couldn't you guys drum up donations to buy a foreclosed business property?

I know they're not cheap but it's a possibility.

What about getting a cheap plot of land and seeing if somebody won't donate a large steel building for you?

I know these all cost money but if you can drum up enough support the money will be there. Media obviously helps.

Just my two-cents worth.

No, that goes against our core mission beliefs. (2.00 / 3) (#133)
by smegma hauler on Mon Aug 30, 2004 at 02:45:06 PM EST

We would not want to purchase any 'property', since that would imply that property is such a thing as can be owned, and if we were to 'own' some 'property', that may keep some of our customers away due to guilt (lending legitimacy to the notion of 'owning property' by voluntarily passing onto said 'property'), and that would not be spiffariffic!

[ Parent ]
Then your mission is contradictory (none / 1) (#146)
by toganet on Sat Sep 04, 2004 at 09:39:31 AM EST

How can you "give away" books when you believe nothing can be owned?

If you limit yourself to just transitive verbs, you can still read, carry, burn, eat -- lots of fun activities.

But, you can't love books, or give them away.

I guess they would say they are merely providing a place for the books to wait for people between readings.

Johnson's law: Systems resemble the organizations that create them.

[ Parent ]
Baltimore's "Free Books!" Charity in Dire Straits | 148 comments (82 topical, 66 editorial, 4 hidden)
Display: Sort:


All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!