Free Books at AVC: My Quixotic Quest to Give Away Free Books Around My College

In a bit of pushback against the demise of the bookstore, I had the following thought:

If it’s generally not a good business model to sell dead tree books out of physical storefronts anymore, why can’t colleges at least recreate the bookstore browsing vibe for students by setting up areas where the books can simply be walked away with for free?

So I tried it. About a month ago, I culled my own home library of about 400 books, bummed another hundred books from colleagues at Antelope Valley College, and put them out on carts. I guessed that a cart with 200 books on it might be picked dry every two weeks. Surely, I could keep up with that. Instead, what I found is that passing students tended to pick off 200 books in about six hours.

The demand proved a bit scary. I tapped out very quickly. So I asked for more book donations via a campus-wide email to instructors. That yielded another thousand books.

And now they’re all gone. About 1500 books have been given away without breaking a sweat.

So, in addition to donations, I’m looking into bulk purchases at Los Angeles auctions. When a Barnes & Noble shutters, I wonder where the books go?

What I need is a 10,000 book bullpen, restocked every year. I could keep a couple of carts out around AVC’s campus if I had that many books in storage.

Also, my wife has an idea. She calls it “Bookstock.” In other words, we (my wife is also a professor of English at the college) could roll book liberation carts out onto campus on a single day and have a collective hippie read-in with students and instructors on the grass together—perhaps reading something out loud, or maybe just reading (paradoxically) in solitude together. Think of it: a be-in with books, maybe in the nude with the waft of marijuana in the air.

Just kidding about that last part.

Anyway, a couple of weeks back I interviewed some students taking books off the carts. It’s life affirming (in my opinion):


Also, Charles Hood wrote something about the project (see here).

Now, perhaps you’re an instructor and would like to try something similar on your campus. If so, please let me know how it went (in the comboxes below or via email to

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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