Hello Book Thing friends,

At our September books giveaway, patrons adopted 11,536 books and 1,105 “non-books.”  Thank you to everyone who was able to attend!

Upcoming events

We will continue our book giveaways on the second full weekend of the month for the rest of the year, pandemic permitting. As always, our events alternate between Saturday and Sunday.

  • Sat Oct 9  from 9a-4:45p – details below, including kids’ book donations 9a-2p
  • Sun Nov 14 – details TBD
  • Sat Dec 11 – details TBD

Please note that 10/9 is the day of the Baltimore Running Festival.  We are fully boxed in by one of the marathon loops.  There will be significant street closures and traffic snarls throughout the city that may make it difficult for patrons to reach The Book Thing. We recommend you take a close look at the map and mile timings on the marathon website to help you plan your visit. The marathon route and timings don’t change much from year to year.

Indoor book giveaway: Saturday, Oct 9, 9am-4:45pm

We will allow patrons into the building to select their own books on Oct 9th, using a limited-entry format. All lines will form outdoors. Dress for the weather, bring an umbrella if it’s rainy, etc. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Masks are required, even if you’re vaccinated.
  • 55 patrons will be permitted in the building at any given time. We will use a “one in, one out” method to respect this limit.
  • We won’t ask everyone to leave after 50 min the way we did early this summer, but if the entrance line isn’t moving, we reserve the right to empty the building at 11am, 1pm and/or 3pm to give new patrons a chance to enter.  (Yes, you can get back in line.)
  • Upon exiting, patrons will form an outdoor line to count their books and sign out. Yes, even if it’s raining.
  • The first entrance will be at 9am. Last entrance is at 4:45pm so that all patrons have exited the building and signed out by 5pm.
  • Patrons are responsible for their own social distancing inside the building.
  • A parent may be accompanied by one (and only one) child, and every child must be accompanied by one adult. We worry that many kids can’t get vaccinated yet. Please make sure your child wears a mask.
  • Patrons will enter through the red room door and exit through the blue room door.
  • The restroom will be available, but you will not be permitted to enter the building to use it except when it’s your turn to be inside browsing for books. Please plan accordingly.
  • Spare boxes will be available to hold your books.

Book donations on Oct 9, 9a-2p – children’s and YA only

We are still dealing with a large backlog of donated books, so generally we aren’t accepting book donations. However, the need for children’s and young adult books is great, and our stock is low.  So we will be accepting donations of children’s and young adult books only on Oct 9. Book donations will end at 2pm. If you are unable to attend on 10/9 but you have several boxes of children’s books that you wish to donate, please fill out the Contact form on our website.

For our purposes, children’s and young adult (YA) books include all pleasure reading — both fiction and nonfiction — for children roughly ages 0 through 18.  The key is that these are books kids want to read, or to have read to them. They might be board books, picture books, chapter books, or young adult novels. They could be books about animals or firefighters or world records or anything that kids get excited about, provided they are at an age-appropriate reading level.  What they are not is workbooks, textbooks, handwriting practice, math facts, spelling drills, or other such educational materials used in the teaching of children. If it has exercises or comprehension checks, that’s a good clue that it’s not suitable. The kids who ask Mom or Dad to read the 7 times-table as a bedtime story are few and far between!

We will need to verify that your books fit our definition of children’s or YA books before accepting your donation.  As a result, there may be a line at donation intake.  Thank you in advance for your patience.

Organizational updates

We promised an organizational update, but then we got sidetracked dealing with the vandalism of our van. We apologize for the delay! The van is repaired and sorted out now — and thank you very much to those who contributed to help with that.

It’s hard to believe that we held our first outdoor book giveaway of the pandemic more than a year ago — in July 2020 — slathered in sunscreen and sweating in our masks on what felt like the hottest day of the summer. Thank you for bearing with us through the pandemic.  We absolutely love seeing you at our monthly book giveaways; they’ve been the highlight of a strange and challenging year.

COVID brought personal hardship and loss to many in our community in the form of stress, illness, unemployment or furlough, and isolation. The Book Thing has survived as an organization, but the going has been tough. Friends and supporters will recall that we went into hibernation in Jan 2020. We put daily operations on pause in order to work on urgent administrative requirements, financial difficulties, and an overall strategic reboot to ensure our future sustainability.

Then the pandemic hit in March. For many months, on-site activities sat near zero. But there was a silver lining: thus relieved of operational concerns, the Board could give its undivided attention to the IRS paperwork to get our non-profit status back. As a result, we were able to submit our reinstatement application sooner than we otherwise could have… and it was successful! That was a huge leap forward and absolutely critical to our long-term viability.

In other ways, COVID-19 has been devastating.

  • Bottom line up front: instead of building a small financial buffer, we’re still counting every penny.
  • To keep the lights on, the Book Thing has always sold a tiny fraction of donated books (less than 1%) via online book sale platforms. Revenue from the sales operation fell by a third in 2020 compared to 2019, and in the first half of 2021 it fell another 38% compared to the same period last year.
  • Financial hardship and uncertainty — not to mention acute need from many worthy causes! — have contributed to a decrease in personal contributions. Donations were down in 2020, partly due to our loss of nonprofit status. We got reinstated in Nov. 2020, making all donations tax deductible again, yet individual contributions in the first half of 2021 were down more than 50% compared to the first half of last year.
  • We had planned to use our hibernation to improve our small sales operation so that it would run more efficiently. Instead we had to reduce staff hours and cobble together a remote work arrangement to keep everyone safe.
  • Our book giveaway operation has always depended heavily on our amazing volunteers. Instead of building up the volunteer team through recruitment and training, we had to send our volunteers home for many months. We have only recently been able to welcome small groups of experienced volunteers back on site on a regular basis.
  • To stay operational, The Book Thing needs to move large numbers of books through our processes, onto the shelves, and out the door. This system depends on having many hands on-site. But that wasn’t safe/feasible in our space even as Maryland gradually reopened, particularly given the personal risk considerations of key staff, volunteers, and board members.
  • Lacking hands on-site, we have made only limited progress on the backlog of >100,000 books stored in our offsite warehouse.
  • We could accomplish more if we had a part-time employee to manage operational matters and host volunteers, but we’ll be transparent: we can’t afford to hire anyone. Recruiting a staff member is a commitment that we don’t take lightly. For now, we are a volunteer-run organization.

We thank the generous individuals who made donations in response to our post about financial worries after the vandalism of our van and in the face of our expensive end-of-summer insurance renewals. We thank everyone who has contributed wish list items and financial support in any amount throughout the year.  We are lucky and grateful to be part of this community.

Looking to the future, we are hopeful that some of our prior foundation donors will be willing to support us again now that we are once again eligible as a 501(c)(3).  Indeed one has already expressed interest. Unfortunately, we have also learned that our application for a local grant intended to help nonprofits impacted by COVID was unsuccessful. We are investigating other sources of grant funding. The Board is making progress on Board development. We love giving away free books, and we are committed to taking one small step at a time towards being open more often.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to be open only once a month for now.