Take a Book, Leave a Book: Encouraging Literacy at the URI Library

While reading is certainly an essential component to anyone’s college curriculum, we forget that reading for pleasure can still be accomplished: which is exactly what the Robert L. Carothers Library’s staff is attempting to achieve via their “book swap” shelf.

The initiative, dubbed ‘Take-a-Book-Leave-a-Book,” is a free way for faculty, staff and students to exchange books without going through the process of finding a shelf on the third floor, locating the correct book, and checking it out at the front desk; only to have to stress about returning it a few weeks later. The ‘book swap’ shelf, located in the 24-hour room, eliminates this process completely, while still providing students with a way to obtain books to read for pleasure.

Dean of the University Libraries Karim Boughida is responsible for creating the shelves at URI. He was inspired to create the shelves based on Little Free Library, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating ‘book swap’ locations in low-income areas, both in America and overseas.

“It is not something that is very popular here in the US…but in part of the world, like Africa and Asia, it is popular because they have to,” said Boughida. At URI we have the benefit of a large library, full of literature that is available to us — but in less well-off countries, the concept of a community ‘book swap’ is a main vessel for teaching literacy.

“We don’t monitor anything, but in my perception, it is low traffic…[but] as long as we are offering the service, we are a kind of mediator…we have a location, and it’s up to staff, faculty, and students, and any professional, to take one, and leave one,” said Boughida. Although the shelf does not receive much attention, the shelf’s location is ideal.

“We put it in the 24-hour room because that is [one of] the most heavily used spaces on campus,” he added. “But we are in the library business—we offer tons of services, and this is one of the low-usage…but, it’s encouraging reading and opening your mind [to other materials],” Boughida continued.

Another shelf, largely for faculty members, is also located in the Carlotti Administration building. The shelves are also supplemented by the library itself. “We also get gift books donated to the library that we don’t accept. I think some of those make it onto the “book swap” shelves too,” said Andree Rathemacher, a library professor, and head of the Acquisitions department within the library’s staff.

“We also have many faculty members who bring their own books—they don’t need them anymore, or they want to exchange,” said Boughida; through faculty members, the ‘book swap’ location self-maintains its materials.

Even though the semester is ending, students are still encouraged to browse the ‘book swap’ within the library. If students leave one of their own behind, they can take one to enjoy for some light summer reading, without having to worry about eventually returning it to the library. Overall, the ‘book swap’ location is a great way to encourage and foster a community of readers here at URI, and one that the student body should undoubtedly capitalize on.