open city: book thing
My idea of the ideal open city is The Book Thing in Baltimore. Nestled back in a nondescript building off of Greenmount, it’s a hidden treasure. Except everyone knows about it. That’s the open city factor; people come from all parts of Baltimore, because, first and formost, it’s free. The volunteers inside actually encourage you (as the sign confirms) to “be greedy!” They’ll even give you a cardboard box to take it all back home in. The premise of The Book Thing is redistributing donated books. It’s a 501(c) (3) non-profit that “believe(s) no one should be deprived of books for any reason.” They’re the ones that would normally be sitting and collecting dusts on individual bookshelves, but compiled from a collective library they take on a new life for a new set of readers. Russell Wattenburg, the founder, began collecting and distributing books for free in the 90’s after he kept hearing teachers
bookthing.org The Book Thing of Baltimore, Inc. 3001 Vineyard Lane Baltimore, MD 21218 (410) 662 5631
complain at the bar about their students not having books. Initially 1 he would just fill up his van, head to a bus stop or playground, and announce “Free books!” There’s an element of suprise anytime you go. You can’t exactly go with a book in mind, you have to be open to exloring and finding something unexpected. There’s a wealth of knowledge to be found, if you are willing to search. Snag someone’s old romance novel, get your self help fix, or leave with a set of National Geographics from the 60’s. Besides the fact that each book has a section, there’s little about it that’s like the big Barnes and Noble or Borders chains. It has charm. The shelves are handmade with plywood, and the ceiling is molding a bit. It is what it is. And in true open city fashion, it’s one store that anyone can enter. The field is totally level. You can have 5 cents in your pocket or $5. You can be a student at Johns Hopkins down the street or the homeless man that hangs out infront of Subway. It doesn’t matter. If you find a copy of a book you’ve been looking for, it’s yours.
1 Waldron, Tom. “Free For All.” Book Mar/Apr 2002: 26.