Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Community Post: Neighborhood Book Exchanges

A Neighborhood Book Exchange—a small structure that hosts a public book exchange—was not something my colleague nor I anticipated when we enrolled in a Library and Information Studies graduate program in Vancouver, BC, in 2012.  Librarians still work with books, but amidst all the digital advances in the information field—electronic catalogues, mark-up languages, search engines, and e-books, to scratch the surface—books themselves somehow fell out of focus in the Library curriculum. 

But shortly after our first semester at school, Kathleen came across an article, like so many we would see, that showered book exchanges with praise, imbuing them with the power to build community, promote literacy, and promote a love of reading.  This message was promoted heavily and it gained traction in unintended ways.  In fact, the comparison between these book exchanges and public libraries became not only tangible, but acceptable for some.  For example, the Vancouver Sun recently published an article about a book exchange intended to fill the gap for children who have never set foot in a public library.  Or consider a TEDx monologue that posits a formula to explain why a Little Free Library is superior to a Carnegie--which is used as a stand in for public libraries.  But could the media claims that circulated with such redundancy be substantiated?  In this way these book exchanges intrigued and provoked us. 

Soon after reading the article, we schemed with our academic advisor to begin an empirical research study that investigates how Neighborhood Book Exchanges are designed, installed, and used; and why.   We can’t answer all the questions we have through this one study, but it’s a fruitful start. It’s the only academically rigorous study being conducted on the subject that we are aware of.

We are hoping to publish a freely available report of our findings for those of you who are involved in, interested in, or curious about Neighborhood Book Exchanges. To learn more about our study and its current status, please visit

Post and photo by Tenny Webster, MLIS

One of the principle researchers of the Neighborhood Book Exchange study and resident of Santa Fe

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