Germany sees public bookshelves spring up all over the country

Shelves that allow anyone to take or leave a book are a hit in cities and suburbs, including Cologne.

Martin Meissner/STR/AP
Michael Aubermann is one of the volunteers who looks after the public bookshelves in Cologne, Germany.

Imagine a library without due dates, fees, or the need to get a card.

Residents of Germany can. Public bookshelves have been spotted in Berlin, Hannover, and other areas of the country, including the city of Cologne, where more than 20 volunteers have helped organize public bookshelves in the city. Anyone who passes by can pick up or drop a book on the shelves. In Cologne the books range from classics like “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque to a book on witchcraft, according to the Associated Press.

There are currently six public bookshelves in Cologne, one of the organizers, Michael Aubermann, told the AP. Four of the bookshelves are outside, while two are located inside Ikea furniture outlets. Aubermann estimates that it takes about six weeks for the shelves to turn over completely.

“This project is aimed at everyone who likes to read – without regard to age or education,” Aubermann told the AP. “It is open for everybody.”

Aubermann said the bookshelves haven’t had many problems with vandalism or other tampering.

The bookshelves in Cologne are paid for by donations and looked after by volunteers. Aubermann said that while the bookshelves are currently located in more affluent neighborhoods, he and the other Cologne residents who look after the bookshelves want to put bookshelves in poorer neighborhoods so the residents can have access to literature that they might not otherwise see.

And the idea may be spreading. Aubermann said he was recently contacted by someone who wanted to put up public bookshelves in areas of Mozambique.

A woman who lives in Cologne and works in catering and event management told the AP that she’s a huge fan of the public bookshelves.

”I have often left books here, but frankly, I have even more often taken books with me," Vera Monka said. “For me personally, this project is simply great, because I do not have much money left to spend on good literature."

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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