When we began our study, we were faced with the challenge of defining a ‘neighborhood book exchange’. A definition would establish the types of book exchanges we would include in our study. After considerable research and reflection, we developed a definition that captures the key features and factors that distinguish NooX from other book exchanges.
There are public book exchanges of all stripes. Many book exchanges are accessible to the public, but some less so; book exchanges in community centers or coffee shops require membership or patronization. Some book exchanges are small, hosting only a half dozen volumes, while other book exchanges are considerably larger. And some book exchanges may host more than just books, and attract a wide array of items.
Since there are so many varieties of book exchanges, it was important early on in the study to distinguish the differences between them and decide on a particular type of exchange on which to focus. This narrows the scope of the investigation to book exchanges with the same core elements. After identifying the core elements of Neighborhood Book Exchanges (NooX) we established a definition (below). Defining a NooX helped us determine which book exchanges would be subjects in our study and provided a foundation for researching different aspects of NooX. A specific definition and set of common core elements establishes a modicum of comparison between the subjects in our study. Importantly, this is not a value judgment of book exchanges; we are not proposing that the book exchanges in our investigation are better or worse than others.
What is a NooX?
We use the term “Neighborhood Book Exchange” or “NooX” to describe a small physical container used to host a book exchange. More specifically, NooX are book exchanges that are:
- Accessible to the public right of way: Location is critical. NooX are positioned, such that, any member of the public can access it. They may be on public property or on the fringes of private property; they are typically placed beside or near a sidewalk. NooX do not require membership with a particular group or organization, and they do not require patronization of a particular business or establishment.
- Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: NooX do not have operating hours or seasons. They are available to passersby at any time of day and any time of year. Importantly, this means that NooX are not situated inside a business or establishment that has operating hours. NooX are typically out-of-doors.
- An open invitation to exchange books: Whether explicitly stated or not, NooX invite passersby to take a book or leave a book. Some NooX may host other forms of recorded information—e.g. movies, music, or magazines—but NooX prioritize books, first and foremost. Importantly, anyone is welcome to take or leave items from the NooX; participation is not restricted to members of a specific group or community.
These features help us determine which book exchanges can be considered NooX. But, aside from these elements, NooX vary considerably. There is tremendous variety in size, design, and situation.
They are also known by a variety of different names—e.g. Community Lending Library, Micro Library, Book Trading Post, Little Free Library, and Community Book Exchange. Little Free Library, the namesake for the non-profit Little Free Library organization, is a very common name. For the purposes of our research, a Little Free Library, like similar book exchanges of different names, is a NooX as long as it meets our criteria.
Why call it NooX?
We chose the name “Neighborhood Book Exchange” for four reasons. First, the name reflects the nature and function; NooX are local initiatives that host book exchanges. Second, the name is not associated with an organization. Third, the term had not been widely adopted, nor had anyone established a formal definition for it. And, lastly, the name is simple and the acronym, NooX, seemed suitably cute.