The Community Bookcase

September 3, 2009

I wrote about this bookcase over on Haus Maus but since not all of you read my other blog I’m posting about it here too because my wish is that if I talk about it enough, and then maybe you link to it and talk about it also, that the idea may just catch on. And then perhaps you’ll have your very own bookcase too. Allow me to explain.

The Community Bookcase

See this bookcase standing on the sidewalk? No, it’s not waiting for the movers to come pick it up. And no, it’s not part of some eviction. Oh and it definitely is not an animated bookcase that came to life at night in the local library and decided to go all independent and flee the scene. This is indeed a normal, everyday bookcase with glass doors that you can open and contents inside that are 100% free to the public. No library cards, overdue notices or payment required. At this bookcase you simply visit it, find a book (or two) that you want, remove it and put it in your little tote or bicycle basket, and then go on your merry little way. The bookcase only asks that in return, you bring some of your own books back to replenish the supply. And this is not the only bookcase that I’ve located here in Hannover. There is another one near the city center. This one happens to be a few blocks from my house on Jakobistr. Of course, all of the books are in German but it encourages me even more to keep up with my studies! I want to sneak in a few of my English books next time I’m out, I’m sure some would be interested in them. :)

Don’t you love this idea of a community bookcase? I’m not sure how this would work everywhere, I mean in some cities I imagine people who take books and sell them for profit on eBay, but here it does not seem to be a problem and the bookcases always have plenty to look through on them. What do you think of this idea? Would you want something like this in your city?

In Germany, you may find these bookcases at locations listed on this page.

(image: thorsten becker for decor8)


  • Reply mandie segura September 3, 2009 at 8:23 am

    This is such a cool idea! I do sell books online that I find at Goodwill, but if I had something like this, I’d definitely participate! Thanks for sharing, Holly!

  • Reply viv September 3, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Wow, that is so great, I wish I have one close by, I would for sure donate some books! Here I don’t know if it would work, but still it is a wonderful idea.
    .-= viv´s last blog ..Bugged Eye Owl =-.

  • Reply Alexandra September 3, 2009 at 8:26 am

    What a lovely idea! This reminds me of a more accessible version of the bookshelves you find in hotels in the middle of nowhere (I’ve seen them specifically in Thailand.) You take a book, leave one that you’re done with, and go merrily on your way, with no change to the weight of your luggage.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Mornin’! =-.

  • Reply trish September 3, 2009 at 8:26 am

    OMG this is great! So now there are a few things stateside we need to adopt; the cleanliness, the use of bicycles, and this free/trusting exchange of something so simple, reading a book. Thanks for this- maybe it will spark some interest here. I live in a historical harbor town filled with writers and artists- this would be a hoot! So, I will send this wish it up and see what falls. Best to you always- oxo T
    .-= trish´s last blog ..40 Winks By David Carter =-.

  • Reply Laura Reaux September 3, 2009 at 8:27 am

    What an awesome concept! Like you, I’m not sure how well it would work everywhere… but in the right areas maybe. It must be magical to drive down the road and see a filled bookcase like this one on the side of the road. :)
    .-= Laura Reaux´s last blog ..Christmas Card Mini Sessions =-.

  • Reply Juana September 3, 2009 at 8:32 am

    What a wonderful idea… but i would have to say that might work better in north European countries for now that in Mediterranean ones.. people tend to unfortunately have some sticky hands :P

    I’m originally from Lisbon and i would love to take a walk to Chiado Square in Lisbon. Take an interesting book from the bookcase and sit at the cafe “A Brasileira” enjoying a cup of tea and my book! i can already picture it! :D

  • Reply Karin Elizabeth September 3, 2009 at 8:37 am

    This is such a wonderful idea. It reminds me a little of some pubs or B&B’s that have these tiny bookshelves where you can leave books and take others. I thought that was a very charming idea already :)

  • Reply Happy Girl September 3, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Hi Holly,

    Loving this idea, thanks for sharing! We have a ‘hope box’ at work with things people donate to for each other. It works well, just wondering whether the lovely bookcases are being respected by everyone as they are in a public space. I really hope so. Love your blog btw.

    Greetings from Dublin!

  • Reply El September 3, 2009 at 8:50 am

    I guess we’re lucky here in New England. Our library recycles books weekly. They put out several hundred “old” books every week and allow residents to contribute books and magazines to the pile when they move or de-clutter. Anyone can take them, and most people I talk with keep them for their at home libraries. Last week I picked up a first edition signed Tolstoy. Not bad.

  • Reply Sarah September 3, 2009 at 8:52 am

    I think this is such a super idea. What a great community building exercise and a way to promote reading. I hope this helps bring a reading revolution to the states!

  • Reply Meg September 3, 2009 at 8:58 am

    I love this idea! We have book swap areas in my office, but the pickings are fairly limited. I’d love to be able to swap with a wider group of people. I wonder if this is something that could ever work in Manhattan? Maybe libraries should put swapping cases in their vestibules…

  • Reply Katie September 3, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Holly, I love this idea! It’s such a great concept of reading and sharing :) You are right to assume it could not work everywhere…but I think this could work in smaller, more tight-knit communities, such as my tiny hometown in Michigan.

  • Reply Katie Stephenson September 3, 2009 at 9:08 am

    I think this would work but I think I’d like to see it housed in more of a public building or something, otherwise it would make me too sad if someone “abused” it and I am notorious for getting way to emotional over graffiti/litter, etc. We have a public beach house near where I live and there are adirondak chairs, etc by the lake for relaxing. I bet this would go over well there. I’m going to bring it up at our next village meeting.

    • Reply decor8 September 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

      Katie – I was thinking the same thing — however I bet this works only in certain cities or even cultures where people perhaps show more respect to such arrangements… Food for thought.

  • Reply La Alicia September 3, 2009 at 9:14 am

    what a great idea!

  • Reply meredith September 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

    i’ve seen boxes here in chicago that use this same idea. they are like the newspaper boxes where you put in your change to open the door, but they (obviously) are free. i’ve looked in them a few times and pickings have been slim, but maybe that’s just my timing.

    unfortunately, i think that here in america there is a general mentality of “free” = “mine”, and many people probably take books that they aren’t even that interested in, and don’t put anything back. there doesn’t seem to be quite the same generosity that there seems to be in many other countries. i’m jealous!

  • Reply Sprout September 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

    I LOVE this idea, but I can tell you a bookcase on the street would last about 30 minutes in my city before someone would decide the whole thing was free to be taken or trashed.

    I have been thinking about setting up a bookshelf inside my flower shop though! Inside, the books would have chance!

  • Reply alamodestuff September 3, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Such a fantastic idea! I love it!!

  • Reply alli michelle September 3, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I love this idea, and I agree with some of the other comments – this would work better in some locations/communities than others. I live in a small village, though, and I think this would be so charming…people always stroll through our little downtown getting ice cream and seeing the shops and this would fit in perfect. Thanks for sharing, Holly!

  • Reply Arzu September 3, 2009 at 9:35 am

    I have been enjoying both your blogs daily for a while now. This is such a great idea and I will try to implement it in the small university town that I live. Do you know where I can find more information? I would love to have some technical information such as who manages them, where are they located, how are the bookcases protected from rain, snow, etc. Thanks!

  • Reply Tracey September 3, 2009 at 9:57 am

    what a wonderful idea! sadly, I agree here in the states it probally wouldn’t fly! people would either take & not leave then sell on ebay…
    or deface it~ maybe if it was in a coffee shop or other shop where it could be looked over it would be a better idea for here!
    personally I think it’s wonderful! what a great place to live!

  • Reply Iva September 3, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Now that’s what I like about Germany – discipline. There is absolutely no way this project could exist in my country and it makes me so sad…

    The idea is just fabulous! I have heard about a project where you leave one of your books in a public place with a note inside asking the person who finds it to go to a website and just fill in where the book was found. After reading it they should leave it on another public place (not necessarily in the same city even) with the same note inside. The idea is to see how the book travels, goes through different people and connects them.

    What I love most about the project you showed is the bookcase itself! It makes everything so special and personal, like you are at home, like all the people passing by share the same bookcase. Just love it!

    By the way I didn’t know you had another blog, but it really has some great stuff there :)

  • Reply Melissa de la Fuente September 3, 2009 at 10:07 am

    That is the most awesome thing ever! We have something kind of like that in our train station here….but, not nearly as cool looking! I love that!
    .-= Melissa de la Fuente´s last blog ..The little things: beginning to look like fall… =-.

  • Reply honey living September 3, 2009 at 10:09 am

    this is so nice. it inspired me to write about similar programs here in new york that i’ve been loving this summer.

    check it out if you’d like:

  • Reply B September 3, 2009 at 10:13 am

    This is such a wonderful concept! I love the idea of hosting a similar bookcase in a public building or private busienss, because I certainly can’t see the bookcase living through one night in my city before it’s trashed. But it’d be just the thing for an indepedent coffee shop.
    .-= B´s last blog ..Forget Labor Day — Renegade is Almost Here! =-.

  • Reply Oli September 3, 2009 at 10:25 am

    :-) Lovely article!

    I pass this bookstore nearly everyday, it really is a funny idea. I remember when it were “installed” over there. First I also shared your worries, that someone takes out the books and sells them anywhere, or that some youths who feel boring take out the books and burn them or whatever….hehe, but it works and people love it.
    .-= Oli´s last blog ..????? =-.

  • Reply Oli September 3, 2009 at 10:25 am

    :-) Lovely article!

    I pass this bookstore nearly everyday, it really is a funny idea. I remember when it were “installed” over there. First I also shared your worries, that someone takes out the books and sells them anywhere, or that some youths who feel boring take out the books and burn them or whatever….hehe, but it works and people love it.
    .-= Oli´s last blog ..????? =-.

  • Reply Rachel September 3, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Oh, what a lovely idea. This makes me happy, just to know it exists, even if not in my area. Love, love! :)

  • Reply Magchunk September 3, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I wonder if here in Seattle the books would get damaged from the damp weather we have… My apartment building has a “library” and uses the same concept (only thing you can find are crappy true crime novels though). I actually work at the real library, so my library books are delivered to my office! For now I can’t beat that! I find that fines are so low anyway that you can’t beat the wealth of materials at the public library (even newly released DVDs!). But this idea is certainly charming and romantic. :)

  • Reply Nuit September 3, 2009 at 10:55 am

    This is an amazing idea…. I bet it would work here in my hometown (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico) where everyone is so respectful and most people I know LOVE to read. I know I would be a frequent visitor!

  • Reply Happy Girl September 3, 2009 at 10:56 am

    For those who don’t speak German, the one listed for my hometown, Augsburg, is only ‘unlocked’ from 8am til 9pm which probably helps keeping the lovely books safe for those who really appreciate them. I’ve instructed my friends to take a picture of the bookcase there, very curious to see it, won’t be back myself til xmas. excited!
    Some pix of Augsburg on my blog, lots of beautiful (old) architecture Iva ;-)

  • Reply Christine S. September 3, 2009 at 11:04 am


    My favourite thing about finding a book I absolutely love is sharing that book with someone else. Love this idea!!

  • Reply marissa September 3, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Very cool!

  • Reply enna September 3, 2009 at 11:32 am

    We also have one of these bookcases in Linden, not far from the enna shop! When I heard about it, I was worried that it would be smashed into pieces or set on fire within a few days. This is not the fanciest neighborhood of Hannover and the bookcase was built up right where some people hang out and drink alcohol all day. BUT, it’s till there and it’s obviously working well! My friend Kerstin has found a really cute puzzle for her son in there and replaced it with some of her old books.

    • Reply decor8 September 3, 2009 at 12:06 pm

      Oh Enna there is one in Linden? I have to go check it out. :) :) :) Maybe the books are magical inside scaring away bad spirits. :)

  • Reply Rebekah September 3, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Quite possibly the coolest book-related thing I have ever seen.!
    .-= Rebekah´s last blog ..Wands Repaired While You Wait =-.

  • Reply Joanna September 3, 2009 at 11:43 am

    The community bookcase is such a wonderful concept! At my previous apartment they had a small version of a community bookcase in the laundry room. There was a medium sized bookcase in the laundry sitting room with different kinds of books. It was so interesting to see such a wide array of books! So while you waited for your laundry to be done, you got to look at and read all these wonderful treasures!
    The design of the bookcase above looks very magical!

  • Reply Sara September 3, 2009 at 11:51 am

    that is honestly the most amazing idea ever!!! I have such an obsession with reading and passing what i love on to the next person and vice versa i am posting this on my blog….I want this everwhere!!!
    .-= Sara´s last blog ..LOVE =-.

  • Reply Lisa September 3, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    What a lovely idea. It probably would work best in a business here in the US, just so it could be supervised a little, but the concept is great. It sounds like you live in a really great, almost magical city:)
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Goodwill finds =-.

  • Reply Pebbledash September 3, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    What a fabulous concept! I’d love to see it over here.
    .-= Pebbledash´s last blog ..walking the land :: two =-.

  • Reply Six Different Ways September 3, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    This is such a great idea! I would love to see more of these around :)
    .-= Six Different Ways´s last blog ..Lego Mania =-.

  • Reply Jeannette September 3, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Holly, there’s one in Portland OR put out by City Repair (you can read about it here: http://futurenet.org/issues/what-is-the-good-life/998). On the same corner is a little tea station too! It’s in an unassuming residential neighbourhood. City Repair does various cool community building things throughout Portland.

  • Reply montague September 3, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    this is totally amazing!
    .-= montague´s last blog ..the american summer =-.

  • Reply Nichole September 3, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    I love this idea! I think that in America something like this would work well in areas such as outdoor malls – places that at least have some minimal security around at business hours to keep theft/vandalism down to a minimum. At least until the idea catches on and people can recognize this for what it is and not take advantage. I would absolutely love to run into one of these in my town, and have so many books I’d be willing to trade for a new book.
    .-= Nichole´s last blog ..red velvet =-.

  • Reply klee September 3, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    omg, this is totally cool!
    but if it was implemented in my country, the bookcase would probably get raided and left empty :/

    .-= klee´s last blog ..hate / love =-.

  • Reply Jennifer September 3, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I absolutely LOVE this idea! I just wish it would work here. I would be so afraid that someone would come with a truck or something and haul the whole thing and its contents off and that would just make me so sad.
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Designer Favorites: Resort 2010 – Akris and Alberta Ferretti =-.

  • Reply CherryTreeLane September 3, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    the community bookcase is seriously the coolest thing i have seen this week. i am considering starting one on my street. amazing.
    .-= CherryTreeLane´s last blog ..I told you so. =-.

  • Reply mimi K September 3, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    We have something like this in our grocery store in Massachusetts. The bookcase itself is inside the entry of the store and not as pretty as the one in Germany. Ours has free books- people bring what they want to get rid of and anyone can take what they want. Sometimes there are vintage treasures, sometimes popular paperbacks, sometimes childrens books. Everybody stops to check out what is there. I love it and consider it one of the great things in my town.
    .-= mimi K´s last blog ..reminders and a little project =-.

  • Reply Melissa Allam September 3, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    This is very cool. I agree with alot of the other commentors. This would be best probably for small towns if it is in the U.S., but there are many of those and it would be a great idea to share with some little shops around where I live.
    .-= Melissa Allam´s last blog ..Oceans and Beaches…still on my mind =-.

  • Reply Jen September 3, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    I am in love with this idea! You are so lucky to live in a city where it’s possible.

    I was so enchanted with this idea that I did a little post about it on my blog too so my readers could check it out!
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Things They Do Better In Germany… =-.

  • Reply jess September 3, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Brilliant and totally awesome! Although I wonder how it survives inclement weather?
    .-= jess´s last blog ..Things I Love Thursday =-.

  • Reply Shell September 3, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I love this idea. I think it would work even though some people would take some books. Most loyal bookreaders would come and replenish. Honor the books and the fact it’s free for anyone. The bookcase itself is beautiful, as well.
    .-= Shell´s last blog ..Welcome September =-.

  • Reply shelley t September 3, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    i love this!!! i love this idea so much, that i’ve just spoken to the others i work with and we are going to get one together at the front of our retail space this spring. i have not a doubt in my mind that this would work in melbourne, australia – particularly in this little neck of the woods, fitzroy! a great community idea…thanks for a great post. bravo germany for leading the way! this is really exciting!
    .-= shelley t´s last blog ..Dog Day Afternoon =-.

  • Reply Mandy September 3, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    We have something like this in Nashville, TN at a local ice cream shop (Pied Piper)! Although, I haven’t participated I think it is a great concept :)

  • Reply Adrian September 3, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    This is the most awesome thing I have heard of in quite some time. I Love It! Anything that promotes of love of reading makes me smile inside. :)
    .-= Adrian´s last blog ..I’m Spicing Things Up: Week 3 =-.

  • Reply Arlene September 4, 2009 at 2:28 am

    This is such a wonderful idea! After living in Germany (in Munich) for four years, I know that this is just the thing Germans would do.

    Hmmm, I may just try it here in Manila. Who knows, it could work ;-)!

  • Reply Wendy September 4, 2009 at 4:00 am

    What a lovely idea…Unfortunately it wouldn’t work here…it would be vandalised.

  • Reply Happy Girl September 4, 2009 at 6:15 am

    I found some pix of the Bookcase in Augsburg, how amazing! http://www.gfg-augsburg.de/ausstellungen/2001-clegg_and_guttmann/hofgarten.html
    .-= Happy Girl´s last blog ..City of Literature: A Magical Weekend At The Edinburgh International Book Festival =-.

  • Reply Muriël September 4, 2009 at 7:26 am

    I love the idea! I think they made the bookcase look really good too.
    .-= Muriël´s last blog ..My creative space 05 =-.

  • Reply vintage simple September 4, 2009 at 7:30 am

    It’s a great idea – kind of like they do with bikes in Amsterdam. How inspiring to live in a city where the honor system is respected..! I love it – and I’m so glad you get to live in such a place. Sigh.
    .-= vintage simple´s last blog ..A good house =-.

  • Reply Julie September 4, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Long-time reader and admirer, first-time commenter here. :) Thank you so much for sharing this! Utterly inspiring. The very idea of all these books being shared, floating in and out of strangers’ lives and being part of their stories…well, it’s exciting. Thanks for your continued inspiration!

  • Reply Wedding Chicks September 4, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    such a great idea!

  • Reply Mermaid Debbie September 4, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    That is one of the greatest, coolest ideas I have ever seen! Very inspiring. I am loving your blog and we have added it to our Dive Into Inspiration on our blog.

  • Reply Maja September 4, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Well i think it`s an amazing idea ! And damn I wish we could have it .. but i think people are to corrupted for smth like this :(
    but yeah… keep it going !!

  • Reply Kim Goldberg September 4, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I LOVE this concept!!! I am going to set one up here in Nanaimo, BC, where I live. I have been doing something (slightly) similar by creating “Poem Galleries” in vacant downtown storefronts – papering the empty windows with poems by local poets instead of the brown butcher paper that would otherwise be covering them. Here is a link to some pics of that:
    .-= Kim Goldberg´s last blog ..RED ZONE – Coming Soon! =-.

  • Reply Sarah Wallis September 4, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    The community bookcase is an excellent idea! I would definitely use it. It reminds me of the bike borrowing system they have in some places in Holland. I saw a thing on the news the other day about a scheme like that being tried in London but people keep stealing the bikes. Oh dear!
    .-= Sarah Wallis´s last blog ..Nature Table =-.

  • Reply Christina September 5, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Absolutely LOVE these bookcases! We have a couple here in Bonn as well. I pass one on my way to uni every day and there are always people looking for new books or bringing their old ones. So glad it works over here!

  • Reply Natalia September 6, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Dear God.. I live in Brazil. These books wouldn’t least for 10 minutes. Someone would take all of then and try to sell it somewhere.

  • Reply Penny Patten September 8, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    This is one of the best ideas I’ve heard about in a long time! Fantastic! Thanks for sharing this, I would love to see this where I live!
    .-= Penny Patten´s last blog ..The Donkey Arrived Yesterday =-.

  • Reply FernandoP September 10, 2009 at 6:22 am

    I live in Porto Alegre (Brazil) where something alike is happening — the Public Bookshelves (http://s8a8f.tk) are placed next to bus stops and are freely open. From the pictures, the big difference between both is that the books seem more protected in the German project.


    I used to walk by a Public Bookshelf here and it broke my heart, because there were only old books on politics, economy and torn magazines — probably people thought that they would be better in a Public Bookshelf than in their homes, what is understandable but turns the Bookshelf in a Public Deposit of Unwanted Books.

    I am studying to become a librarian and the thought of people interested in learning really amazes me. I think the projects have a great potential, but how not to turn those bookshelves on wastebaskets?

  • Reply Jeff November 10, 2009 at 2:28 am

    This is a very interesting and unconventional story. but many people including me can relate to it

  • Reply Santa May 17, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Nice idea. Nowadays the price of books is not valuated in money, so there would not be any theft or vandalizm. And for some people who really love books such places can be very useful

  • Reply Bookcase Boutique June 25, 2011 at 12:47 am

    This idea is absolutely genius. So simple, yet so excellent. I can see this bookcase a true means of enriching the community it is in…one of the most creative ways to promote literacy that I’ve ever come across.

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