Social Book Lending

| August 23, 2011

stoop books

I recently decided on bestsellers The Help and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for my last pleasure reading hurrah before school starts for me on August 29th. I don’t like to buy books anymore, considering the teetering towers of treasured hardbacks that sit on the floor of my tiny Brooklyn apartment, my bookshelves offering no vacancy. Popular fiction, though, is not easy to obtain via libraries, especially if you’re impatient or on a deadline (or both). NYPL has long wait lists for the blockbusters and academic libraries often do not collect new fiction, or if they do, it is often for a special leisure section that only circulates on campus, ruling out Interlibrary Loan. Yet I know there are hundreds of copies of Dragon Tattoo and other top 20s just lying around apartments all over NYC, with owners who probably are not planing to read them again anytime soon. The “stoop system” popular in my Park Slope neighborhood has potential but usually the titles I find on brownstone steps are pretty off the wall–though I did pick one up this weekend on how to train my cats to do tricks in just 10 minutes per day!

While I work on enticing Penelope to come to me when I call her instead of glaring haughtily, here are some resources for your perusal that I think of as social stoops, where you can swap your print books and ebooks with other bookworms around the world.

PaperBack Swap

Create your account and post the books you are willing to swap. These can be paperback, hardback or audio. To get new titles, you need credits. If you list 10 books to swap, the site gives you 2 free credits to start. After that, you get a credit for each book you send out, so it’s an even trade. When your books are requested, you can print out an addressed book wrapper on 2 sheets of letter paper. You do have to pay the postage to send books, but so does everyone else, meaning you receive books for free. As of today PaperBack Swap has over 5 million titles available.


Hunt for your free books or come across them serendipitously. BookCrossing allows users to register the books they have released “into the wild” i.e. left in a coffee shop, in an airport, on a ship, etc. The other users either come across the books by chance or actively seek them out, read them, and ideally, release them again in a new location. A handy ID number system allows you to track your books as they exchange hands. For example, right now there is a copy of classic children’s sci-fi novel A Wrinkle in Time at Cubana Social, a restaurant in Williamsburg. You aren’t required to release any books in order to retrieve them, but it is fun to sign into the site and see where your books go.

Goodreads Bookswap

In the battle for a spot as best reading social network, Goodreads appears to have emerged the winner. It’s like Facebook for books (Bookbook?). I have been using the site for a few months and have found it inspires me to read more, not only because I get suggestions from friends, but because of the satisfaction I feel in changing the status of a book from “to read” to “currently reading” to “read.” Goodreads also has a book swap service. One advantage to the Goodreads service is that you don’t have to give any books to earn credits–you can just pay for shipping and get the books you want, although once you ship out 10 books to others, you get one free book.


Those of you with Kindles and Nooks have already conquered the space issue that comes with print collections, but why pay for everything you read? eBookFling takes advantage of Amazon and Barnes and Nobles’s ebook lending features by allowing you to list titles you can lend and in turn, have titles lent to you, all via your devices. Kindle and Nook ebooks can be lent to anyone with a Kindle, Nook or a PC/Mac/device with the Kindle or Nook apps. The loan period is 14 days and you won’t be able to read your book while someone else borrows it. Not all publishers allow their titles to be lent and most books can only be lent 1 time, ever, so choose wisely.

The key to success for any of these communities is good inventory. This shouldn’t be the place for you to try and get rid of all your decades-old textbooks, Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR, or other random titles that are gathering dust for a reason. Enjoy your bestsellers and classics, then set them free.