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corner corner Littering the world with free books

by Libertarian
June 30, 2004

I've claimed many times that individual people are essentially good and caring, who work, play, and coexist with each other peacefully every day. The essential point is that government force is not required to coerce us into "taking care of each other". In fact, adding coercion to any desired result is far less effective than simply "allowing it to happen". I've also written in defense of corporations, in response to the many leftists who portray them as inhuman, heartless, and greedy.

There is an idea, and a website, created and supported by the owner of a Missouri software company, that should single-handedly convince anyone that humans are essentially good and caring, including businessmen. You may have heard of Bookcrossing, but you may not realize how remarkable it is.

Ask those of us who enjoy reading to give our books away when we're through with them, and to just "release" them into public places... allowing them to be picked up by whoever finds and wants them.

The key to getting people to participate is a tracking system. When you join Bookcrossing, you are given a webpage of your own, and you register your books. Each book is assigned a code that identifies the book and who registered it. You create a simple note to stick inside the book... either purchased or printed free from the BookCrossing site... write your name, the date, and the registration code on it, stick it in the book and leave the book somewhere others can find it.

The note directs the book finder to the website, where they can make a journal entry that they found it. The long-range idea is that a book will be tracked through numerous readers, documenting it's travels.

Frankly, if you want to get rid of books, there are easier ways, like just hauling a box of them to a charity, who will record an estimated value you can use as a charitable tax deduction. There are used book stores that may give you a bit of cash for them.

Why then would anyone go to the trouble of registering each book on a website, creating a note and sticking it in the book, then deciding on an appropriate place to leave it, and hauling it off to that place?

I can tell you that it's fun, and that it's like a random act of kindness, but it's more than that. When I "release a book into the wild", I imagine the reaction of someone finding it. There is little doubt that many people will walk by a free book, even though Bookcrossers place another sticker on the outside that yells "Free Book". I suppose that some people will be suspicious of anything free. I also like to imagine that the person who finally does pick up the book will be someone who really needs it... someone who may not be able to afford to buy it. If that's true, they probably won't have internet access and won't be able to record that they "caught" my book. The thought that pleases me most about releasing a book is that the finder will realize and appreciate that some unknown person has done something nice. That's a life-affirming thought, and we certainly can use more of them these days.

I think there is little doubt of the positive feelings generated through Bookcrossing. What sounds like a fairly crazy, idealistic idea has become something of a worldwide craze.

As I write, Bookcrossing has 259,444 members, who have registered well over 1 million books. 98% of those members have joined in the last 7 months, so growth is spectacular. Most of those books are "in the wild" at any point in time. To this point, only 20-25% have been found and recorded by their finders, but that number is expected to climb over time. I know that one of my released books was picked up immediately, but the finder hasn't gotten around to making a journal entry or reading it yet.

There are Bookcrossing members in just about every nation on earth. Unless you're better at current geography than I am, you won't recognize a lot of the countries. Somehow, there are even 13 members in Iraq... a little mind-boggling in the midst of a war. About half are from the U.S., but there are at least 10,000 from each of 6 other countries. California leads the states with over 18,000 members. Minnesota has 2,834. You can find members right down to the city level... my own little blue-collar paradise, Richfield, has 25 members. There were 27 books released YESTERDAY, just in St. Paul!

Deciding where to release a book is part of the fun. I left one on a shelf in a Walgreens, another in a dentist's waiting room (who needs an "upper" in their day more?). Laundromats, restaurants, and coffee shops are popular release locations. Some release a book in a location related to the book theme. Take a minute and think what books might be fun to leave on a tour of the White House.

There are now many corporate sponsors of the huge Bookcrossing website, including many booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon. You might think that booksellers would be upset about people giving books away. Truth is, some Bookcrossers buy extra copies to give away, and it's very likely that reading books is on the increase because of Bookcrossing.

You can set up a Bookcrossing Zone... a public place where people can release books, catch books, and make journal entries while they're there... like the Liberty Center zone I set up recently.

Bookcrossing.com has been named one of PC Magazine's "Top 100 You Can't Live Without Sites for 2004". From 200 to 500 new people join each day, to give their books away to strangers. I encourage you to join us, and help give the world a little nudge in a happier direction. Tell'em "Libertarian" sent you.

[reprinted with permission from http://babelogue.citypages.com:8080/bsmith/2004/06/02 - Ed.]

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