Book exchange miscellany: Discerning NooX from its kin

Neighborhood book exchanges are only one flavor of book exchange in what seems to be an ever more popular alternative book economy. As a follow-up to our post where we explain how we define a neighborhood book exchange, this post explores some other book exchange flavors, and considers how neighborhood book exchanges are different.        

The People's Library at Occupy Wall Street

The People’s Library that was set-up within Occupy Wall Street. Photo via Michael Schapira

During our study of Neighborhood Book Exchanges (NooX), we have come across many different varieties of book exchanges. They appear in hostels, coffee shops, and community centers. They serve to educate the public on particular issues, provide access to books when public libraries are closed, or to share resources that are usually inaccessible to the public. By considering what set NooX apart from these other types of book exchanges, we can better appreciate the features and factors that may be especially significant or interesting in a study of neighborhood book exchanges.

Here is a breakdown of the different flavors of exchanges we have identified.

Book exchanges hosted by for- and non-profits

Book exchanges hosted by organizations such as community centers, OutReach programs, coffee shops, and hostels are a fairly common sight. But early in our study we separated these book exchanges from NooX for three fundamental reasons:

  • Access is exclusive
  • Participation requires patronization
  • Inaccessible after host business’ operating hours

Pop-up libraries

Temporary book exchanges with a large collection of curated books sometimes appear in public parks or retail spaces. In some cases, they ‘pop-up’ in the wake of a public library closing or reducing its hours.

How Pop-up libraries differ from NooX:

  • Larger collection size
  • Require more maintenance and coordination or operate
  • Inaccessible after operating hours
  • Temporary (not intended to be used in perpetuity)

Crisis libraries

Crisis libraries are book exchanges with a small to large collection of books that are established in response to a crisis, protest, or movement. The People’s Library of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, pictured above, is an example.

These book exchanges are different from NooX because:

  • Temporary (not intended to be used in perpetuity)
  • Response to a specific situation

Swap boxes

Some exchanges invite passersby to exchange more than just books. In the case of swap boxes, a shelf or crate is placed in a public space to host the exchange of any item. Swap boxes are typically distinguished from NooX by:

  • No pre-conceived arrangement to privilege books or other forms of recorded information
  • May or may not be monitored by a steward

Home libraries with public hours

A personal collection of books that is made publicly available by inviting the public to peruse and borrow items–for example, The STAG in Vancouver, BC. These home libraries are unlike NooX because:

  • Inaccessible to the public outside operating hours
  • Items are borrowed–not taken or left

These are the major types of book exchange relatives that we have identified and compared with neighborhood book exchanges. But it is worth adding a note regarding the distinction between neighborhood book exchanges and little free libraries.


Book exchanges known as ‘Little Free Libraries’ chartered by the Little Free Library organization are quite common, and feature more frequently in the media than other book exchanges. Do we consider them NooX?  It depends. In this study, we consider a Little Free Library a NooX when it fits within our definition.

As an example, during a short layover in Seattle, Kathleen and I grabbed a hot brew at Zeitgeist Coffee. While in line we found a Little Free Library staring back at us. Made from what looked like a repurposed cranberry crate, it sported a Little Free Library charter number, contained a handful of books, and sat on a shelf system among newspapers. It had several of the requisite elements of a NooX, yet we don’t consider it a NooX. Why? Context matters! It was located inside Zeitgeist Coffee where access to the Little Free Library was restricted to patrons and limited to their operating hours.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s