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An OBCZ Primer

Simple suggestions to get you going
by bookczuk
May 10, 2005
Has the thought of establishing a Official BookCrossing Zone been rolling around in your BookCrossing brain? Perhaps you have pondered the famous words of an anonymous BookCrosser:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

Is there an OBCZ in the future for you?

There may be just the perfect spot in your town, but you haven't a clue where to begin. There is no hard and fast way to establish a Zone, but gathered in this article are helpful suggestions from various OBCZ Managers in several countries.

First things first, though. Before you approach that perfect coffee shop, or announce your plan in the forum, you should take some time to decide if being an OBCZ Manager is really for you. Some things to consider:

  • Are you able to take on the commitment of OBCZ maintenance?

  • Do you have time to regularly check the new zone and keep it stocked?

  • Are there other BookCrossers in the area that will be willing to help with the upkeep of the zone or will it all rely on you? Either way can work. You can discuss interest with other locals via PM, in person or at a BookCrossing gathering.

  • Is there a ready source of books to stock your OBCZ without breaking your budget? Some sources for books at a bargain price include charity or thrift shops, library book sales, yard/garage/rummage sales, and of course, used book stores. Some charity shops will occasionally run specials (buy 5 get 3 free) or drop prices when overstocked. One BookCrosser found that some of her local charity shops routinely discard excess books, but allow her to pick them up for free if she gets there before the trash collectors do. Remember that the BookCrossing community is a very generous one. Several OBCZs (including the ones I maintain) have had donations from BookCrossers around the globe, and frequently, seasoned OBCZ Managers send books to welcome new Zones. Plus, there is the delightful practice of cross-pollination where Managers exchange books to keep their stocks fresh and allow books to travel.

  • Will your OBCZ have a theme? (This may be influenced by the location.) Some OBCZ themes are mystery/suspense, science fiction/fantasy, children's books, gardening, cooking, etc. It is fine to just have a general shelf.

  • Do you have a place to keep extra books that will go on your shelf at a later date? Plastic storage bins are a way to keep them temporarily, so that moisture, mold or bugs don't get to them. If you have a large number of books waiting in the wings, you can even sort them by category (fiction, nonfiction etc) so that when you go to restock your OBCZ you can easily grab a variety of books to take. I also keep a basket of books in the back of my car so I always have a ready supply with me. Our OBCZ is in an area I have to frequent almost daily and I can often do a drive by to see how the shelf is doing.

  • Are you going to use your BookCrossing ID to register all the books or will a separate identity be established for your zone? Setting up a separate virtual shelf would mean that your own shelf doesn't get overrun with books you haven't read or are not to your taste. It will not be a complete accurate representation of books at the OBCZ, because other BookCrossers will leave books, and unlabeled donations will probably show up as well. If the business hosting the zone has their own web site, suggest that they put a link to BookCrossing.com.

If you are still interested in starting an OBCZ, the next consideration is choosing your location. Places that are possibilities include coffee shops, diners or casual restaurants, student centers, car wash waiting areas, etc. Some things to think about include:

  • Is there a location where there is a lot of BookCrossing activity already happening?

  • Is the site of your regular BookCrossing Gathering a possibility?
  • Is there a location convenient for you, or where you have regular business?

  • Is there easy access and parking?

  • Would the OBCZ be sheltered from weather extremes?

  • What are the hours of operation for the potential host?

  • Would someone feel comfortable entering to just look at the books? The local day spa, fitness center or shop may be a hotbed of activity, but also may be a bit intimidating for some to enter. By the same token, the business owner may get annoyed if too much traffic comes in just for the books and ignores the merchandise or facility.

  • Is there Internet access at the site? More and more places are starting to grant free or pre-paid wireless Internet access. The Wilde-OBCZ (maintained by midwinter) has free wi-fi with no strings attached. As she says, "For a geeky BCer like myself, this is fabulous. I can bring my laptop with wireless card to the OBCZ and update the bookshelf in real time." Midwinter recommends www.wififreespot.com for a starting point to finding free wi-fi in your area. Many coffee spots and most hotels use have some form of wireless connection or Internet available for patrons.

You've chosen your spot- now you need to get the blessing and permission of the manager. There are a number of ways to to this. It has been suggested to bring any or all of the following with you when you go:

  • A printout of the Crossing Zone poster at http://www.bookcrossing.com/promote

  • Any of the articles or publicity releases. (I used the second page of the publicity release, with the figures updated. I also bring 2 copies: one for the manager and one for the district manager or owner.)

  • Information necessary to have the OBCZ listed at one of the sites for OBCZs: Name of business, address, phone number, hours of operation, etc.

  • Examples of labeled, ready to release books. Why not have a box of registered, labeled books ready to put out in case you get an immediate go-ahead?

  • Sign (placard or laminated) to display at the shelf or in the window (with the manager's permission. Some chains do not allow signs affixed to the front window, but do not object to the table-top display in an acrylic stand, like this Deflect-o Sign Holder at Staples), or a sign thumb-tacked to a bulletin board or hung on a wall.

  • Extra fliers, literature, bookmarks etc. in some sort of display holder for patrons to get more information on BookCrossing.

You may want to find an existing OBCZ bookshelf that matches the genre of the business you're approaching and bring a printout of this shelf when you go to speak to the manager. This was very successful for one potential OBCZ keeper who was able to show the manager a coffee house, a similar business that was hosting a successful OBCZ in another city. This gave the manager a good idea of how a bookshelf could work in the business's favor. There are several very impressive OBCZ bookshelves, which include a map of the location, business hours, a picture of the façade, directions, etc. And if your potential OBCZ has Internet connection, and you have computer access there, why not take them on a quick tour of BookCrossing. Don't forget to bookmark the site, if using their computer!

Pick a time when the business is not likely to be too busy, so the manager or owner will have time to talk with you. Remember that in some cases, you may need to make an appointment with the manager to talk with them. You can leave them some information ahead of time (PR release or other articles as well as the website) so that they can check out BookCrossing before talking to you.

Ask, very simply, if it would be okay to set up a place in the business where people could take a book or leave a book. It helps if you've scoped out the place and have a suggestion about where the books might go. It can be a shelf, a basket, a crate or a box that is tidy. It needs to be someplace where folks can look at the books without getting in everybody's way.

Tell the owner a little bit about BookCrossing, show them the kinds of books you'd like to leave and give them the articles you've brought along. The manager of one of our Charleston OBCZs confessed her fear was the books would end up strewn all around the shop. Seeing BookCrossers checking on the shelf and maintaining it regularly has eased that concern. And she has since told us how great having the bookshelf in the cafe is for business--a goodwill gesture for the customers.

Make it very clear that it is fine for people to take a book home, that these books are not meant to be read only at the business. Explain that you will come in occasionally to restock the shelf, straighten it up, and pick up books that haven't been registered yet. When books are donated to the shelf, you can either take them home to register or bring with you pre-numbered labels to use and activate later using the ISBN and the appropriate BCID from the label. I have a small spiral notebook with a pocket in it that I carry with me when I visit the OBCZs. The pocket holds extra bookmarks and labels, and the notebook is a place I can jot titles, ISBNs, requests etc down. It is my OBCZ Brain.

Know your numbers! Before heading over to talk to the manager, check the latest number of members in your area and jot down the total number of BookCrossers. This can be translated into potential new customers for a business.

If the owner is ready to let you get started, and you've got all you need with you, you may as well set it up right then. Make sure you've got a list of the BCIDs for the books you plan to leave so that you can make release notes when you get home. Be sure to get the owner's help filling out the information form so you can send it in to one of the fabulous sites that lists OBCZs when you get home. Leave your name and phone number in case the owner needs to reach you at any time. Put an announcement up on the Announcements Forum so other BookCrossers will know there's a safe place to leave books. Also post in the OBCZ Managers Forum so you can get lots of moral support, tips and congratulations on your new venture! You may even want to PM local BookCrossers who have been active in the last six months to let them know there is a new zone.

Now for the care and feeding of your OBCZ. Here's my list for regular OBCZ maintenance:

  • Tidy the zone; wipe down if dusty or dirty etc, and gather any books that may have strayed to other areas of the business.

  • Label and register any unlabeled books that have been donated to the OBCZ. Please be sensitive to the clientele at your Zone. Though it rarely happens, sometimes some very adult material may be left on a shelf. If there are minors frequenting the establishment, this could cause a multitude of problems. Not every book donated has to be registered. Let common sense help you out.

  • Refresh your bookmarks, fliers and books. Check to see that the signs are all still intact for the OBCZ.

  • Buy something from the cafe and thank the workers! I periodically bring in a large stack of books and ask the employees to pick what are the next books to go on the shelf. I also ask if there is anything they are particularly looking to read and keep an eye out for it in my book huntings.

As I said at the start of this, there are no hard and fast rules to starting an OBCZ. All you need is to take a good, deep breath, gather your books and your courage and head out there to set up a new OBCZ!

Many thanks to the following folks for their help in getting this list together: Siriradha, the Queen of OBCZs, who maintains zones at Boulder Street Coffee Roasters, Pikes Perk West, Raven's Nest Coffee, Bud's Mufflers and Literary Salon and Austin Hair & Co; Netstation, who maintains the Hole in the Wall OBCZ and the new fantabulous OBCZ site map, midwinter my wi-fi guru, who maintains the Wilde-OBCZ, nyisutter who has a listing of US OBCZs on her site, and the ever wonderful antof9, who maintains the CurvyZoneOBCZ. And a big thanks to all those who have used this document in the past, and offered feedback. For tips on managing an OBCZ in your own business, see the article by yvi-1. Finally, thanks to all the brilliant OBCZ Managers who share so freely in the OBCZ Managers forum.

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