A small treasure in tough times

A cubicle full of old junk became the office's free lending library.


It used to embarrass my daughters that the public library employees knew me by name. "Don't tell people that," said my oldest daughter with a shudder.

That was before her cool factor gave way to her inherited predisposition toward a love of literature. She's discovered the thrill of used books over the expensive, tree-killing temporary pleasure of purchasing a new one. Plus, her budget can't support her habit. When she returns home from college, she stops to prowl through the unauthorized lending library in the cubicle next to mine.

It was a spontaneous venture. The space was formerly a catchall for old junk, dead printers, extinct fax machines, and boxes full of reader service cards left over from the 1970s.

One Saturday I came in and cleared it all out. When the empty space finally emerged, it occurred to me that it was the perfect spot to store some of my massive book collection. I moved in my stash and organized the books in categories: fiction, nonfiction, memoir, self-help, and inspirational. Soon, colleagues on cleaning sprees started bringing in their used books, magazines, audiobooks, and textbooks, adding to the growing piles.

The project grew through word of mouth. Employees stopped by to select a book or contribute one. The categories expanded to include children's literature, young adult, and classics.

Sometimes contributors waited until I left for the day to leave their stack and when I'd arrive in the morning, there would be a new, eclectic tower of paperbacks for me to shelve.

Once, there was a neat stack of old science fiction books. Another time I found travel guide books from around the world. Contributions have ranged from brand-new bestsellers still in their shiny jackets to dusty, dog-eared volumes of Shakespeare. There's a complete collection of Ayn Rand, Dr. Seuss, and just about every Oprah pick you can imagine.

As word got out about a free lending library on the premises, more employees began to visit. Sometimes they'd stand there, just staring in awe at the quantity of books and magazines stacked in tall towers or shelved by interest in metal bookcases.

I'm often asked how long they can be checked out or how much I charge. When I explain that it's free and there's no limit to the number of books or the length of time they are borrowed, there's a sense of incredulity. Really? Free? In this world?

If I'm not busy, I'll help them make a selection or refer them to my stack marked "favorites." Sometimes we just chat about authors we like.

It pleases me that this little library has emerged without any fuss, permission, or oversight. So far, nobody has tried to ban any of the Judy Blume novels or dispute my lack of a Dewey Decimal System.

Though our company has had to tighten its belt, and the economy has been a topic of concern among colleagues in the workplace, a free, no-strings-attached, company lending library is a small pleasure not listed in the employee benefits manual.

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