November 15, 2017
The Book Thing rebuilds, reopens, and will keep giving out free books
by Stephanie DeLuca
The Book Thing, a Baltimore-based non-profit that gives away free books, reopened its doors last month, following a fire that devastated much of the warehouse.
Led by Russell Wattenberg, the Book Thing is neither a library or a store. Instead, it’s a collection of thousands and thousands of books, which are supplied by donations — and free for the taking, in any quantity, by anyone, for any reason. After more than a decade, the Book Thing has, according to Brittany Britto at the Baltimore Sun, “bustled with bibliophiles looking for new reads, teachers and school employees searching for titles for their students, and ‘feeders,’ as Wattenberg calls them — people who come to collect books in order to distribute them to friends, family, and community members… Wattenberg estimated that The Book Thing gave away 400,000 to 500,000 books a year when it was active, and had around 200,000 books in the warehouse at the time of the fire.”
Since the fire struck in March 2016, Baltimore book-lovers have been eagerly anticipating the reopening. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clark tells Britto, “We’ve been lost without it… It’s been a terrible void not to have it open, and so many people depend on it. Everyone’s been involved in saying, ‘Hurry up! Hurry up!’”
But Wattenberg has taken his time, making serious repairs that will take the Book Thing into the future: he’s repaired the roof, installed new furnaces and ceiling fans, added an accessible bathroom, moved electrical outlets away from flammable books, and reorganized the filing system to make finding book sections easier.
According to CBS News, Wattenberg was able to rebuild thanks to the help of the community, who provided “cash donations, fundraisers, and more than a few books.” Local establishments hosted concerts, hardware stores sent supplies, and people kept bringing books — more than 200,000 of then. The Book Thing comeback is a sequel that everyone is grateful to have.
Wattenberg says he began the Book Thing after realizing that he enjoyed “dealing with books more than dealing with people.” A man after our own hearts.
Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.