If You Love Your Books, Let Them Go

Chances are that you have a collection of books in your house sitting somewhere collecting dust. Whether they are squished between two book-ends on a hard-to-reach shelf, or are trapped in a cardboard box in a dark attic, nobody is reading them. The adventures, stories, images, facts, maps and interesting characters they contain are held hostage, their magic constrained. Unless... you liberate them.

 Photo courtesy of Biblioteca Libre
Photo courtesy of Biblioteca Libre

Biblioteca Libre, a program started by a group of students at La Chile, aims to facilitate the circulation and sharing of books by “liberating” them to the public. In a country with one of the highest levels of value added tax for books (19%), finding affordable books at bookstores is next to impossible. This program allows people to find books of all kinds and for all ages for free.

The initiative collects donated books and registers them, assigning each one a number. The idea is that when someone receives a book, they register it online, creating a record of the book’s journey as it gets passed from person to person. The only requirement is to share a book again after reading it. This can be done by passing it to a friend, leaving it in a public place, or bringing it to a book exchange.

 Photo courtesy of Biblioteca Libre
Photo courtesy of Biblioteca Libre

Biblioteca Libre does not have a physical location, but conducts exchanges every two weeks at different Santiago locations. The first exchange took place on April 30th during the flea market at Parque Forestal. Most recently, Biblioteca Libre arrived in the Estación Central neighborhood with an exchange on the 9th.

At the events, each person is asked to arrive with a few books to “liberate” and is allowed to take a few home. The organizers publish a copy of the library’s “catalogue” for each event. The catalogue consists of the books available at that moment, and allows people to find specific books they are looking for. To find a specific book, arriving early is recommended!

“Since April, we have liberated five thousand books,” says Diego Ramírez, one of Biblioteca Libre’s founders. “This initiative is about cooperation,” he continues. “The idea is to let the books move, so that they don’t stay in peoples’ houses.” He also explains that Biblioteca Libre is based on Book Crossing, a “World Library” started in the United States, which “catches” and “releases” books in a similar manner.

 Estación Central, June 9th (photo by Anika Rice)
Estación Central, June 9th (photo by Anika Rice)

Biblioteca Libre’s umbrella organization, Cátedras Libres, promotes education through cooperation by organizing free lectures and workshops on a variety of subjects. Cátedras Libres invites members of the public to share skills or knowledge on a volunteer basis. This month they are offering pilates, origami, first aid, Buddhism, and marine invertebrate identification workshops, among others.

The next book exchange, and your chance to participate, will take place on Saturday June 22nd at Cerro Santa Lucía. As the New York Times says, “If you love your books, let them go.”

Check Biblioteca Libre’s website for details and updates: http://www.labibliotecalibre.cl/

Cátedras Libres: http://www.catedraslibres.com/

Book Crossing: http://www.bookcrossing.com/

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