The “Free Table”—In Which I Finally Get Around to Explaining All Those Earlier Cryptic References.

The Free Table behind our local library.

The Free Table behind our local library.

It used to be the “free bench.” Against the back wall of our local library, handy to the parking lot, there were a couple of old benches. They sat under the building’s overhang, so they had some protection from what little inclement weather we get in this dry climate. People dropped off books and magazines they no longer wanted and anyone was welcome to take whatever was there. The free bench was a regular stop for a large segment of the population, both for browsers hoping to pick up something to read and for others, clearing out their shelves. Or basements, attics and garages.

Then, a few years ago, for their community service project, the local Boy Scouts built a sturdy wooden table, covered with a slanted shingle roof to house the free materials.  This spot is as much a part of the community as the parks, sidewalk cafés and post office.  You regularly run into friends, neighbors and familiar dogs.  Sometimes there’s a wealth of stuff, other times it’s slim pickings.  You never know what’s going to show up and many folks (yeah, me) stop by every day.  (In my defense, I live only a block and a half away, and walk to the library nearly every day in any case.)

Things look a little (ahem) scattered in this photo, but volunteers often take the time to sort, organize and arrange materials. Not only do private citizens make items available, but when the library weeds its collection, sometimes the discards also end up here.

This is not a particularly new or unique idea.  Many libraries have a shelf or a bin inside their facility for giveaways, especially outdated magazines.  One workplace I knew had a shelf in the break room for the same purpose.  Staff members could drop off books for others to enjoy. (See also the Little Free Library concept.)

A patron browses the offerings on the "free table."

A patron browses the offerings on the “free table.”

To the right of the table, there is a set of concrete steps that lead down to a door into a basement area.  Signs tell people to leave donations which are of better quality or in better condition for the Friends of the Library used book sale there instead of putting them on the free table. Signs also request that browsers not rummage through those boxes and bags, which are property of the Friends, and most people comply. Not everybody follows the suggestion about the best books going to benefit the Friends, however, and amazing treasures show up on the free table.  More about that in another post.

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About Lida Bushloper

writer and poet
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