On September 10, 2017 it was a beautiful day outside as St. John’s United Methodist Church of Turnersville, NJ provided meals for everyone who shows up each Sunday of the year. Behind the CVS located on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd in downtown Camden, usually over 100 people stop by to get a hot meal. Food is served at 1 p.m. Prior to lunch, another church group gives clothes away in the same location.
This spot is popular for charity-based services and provision-distribution for the less fortunate. As a Pop Up Librarian for Camden County Pop Up Library, I chose to set up my table with the “Pop Up Library” banner displayed. Five bins of books were set out—two full of children’s books and three brimming with adult-readers. Each book we have in our inventory was donated to us by different individuals and organizations who value spreading the opportunity for reading to all.
I’ve been setting up a Pop Up Library at this location on the 2nd Sunday of each month now for over 6 months! Many people have come to know me as “Tom the Book Man” and always strike up a conversation. The minute the table is set up, people begin roaming over to peruse that month’s selections. It’s indescribably rewarding to see so many interested readers enthusiastically looking through the books we have available. Lately, we’ve been so blessed with donations, that we don’t have to limit our visitors from taking a certain number of books.
I’ll be honest, when I began spending my free time as a Pop Up Librarian, I held prejudices; I thought I could, (pun intended), judge a book by its cover and identify a reader and a non-reader before even speaking with them. Just as the saying rings true for books, it does for people. In retrospect, I realize how stupid it was of me to think I, or anyone, was capable of identifying a reader versus a non-reader by appearances of life circumstances.
On that September 10:
– I met a third grade girl who was so excited about the opportunity to take some books with her that she filled her backpack with children’s books, a few nonfiction books, and even two cookbooks! She looked like a caddie on her first day at the gold course, carrying an oversized bag–but with a smile.
– I met a teen who grabbed the last available Bible and held it up for all/his God to see.
– I met CJ, an ex-heroin addict with four children. We talked about books and authors for awhile, followed by his ideas for his future. I hope to see him next month; I’m eager to see if his plans are set in motion by then. He expressed that he’d like to run a Pop Up Library of his own, one day, after figuring some other things out, first. Wouldn’t it be cool if, some time for now, CJ was writing one of these posts about his experience as a Pop Up Librarian?
As I was leaving that day, I drove past Broadway and Chestnut Street where my friend Darnell gives away food every Sunday afternoon. I arrived too late–next time. I turned down Atlantic Avenue and saw Karen, a frequent visitor of the Pop Up Library at the VOA on Atlantic Avenue, which happens the 4th Sunday of every month. She knows her books. She is one of the main reasons why I have let go of my previous prejudices about people who read and who don’t. She was thrilled to see me: “Tom! What are you doing here? Do you have books?” We talked for a bit with my car idled on the side of the road. A young man was collecting empty cans and putting them in a Hefty bag to take down to the scrapyard on his bike. A friend of Karen’s (also a reader) stopped by as he passed us and took a James Patterson book for himself. The can-collector asked him for a smoke; he obliged.
I’d have stayed to talk to Karen even longer than I had, if I’d had the time. As I drove away under an overpass that carries 676 to Atlantic Ave, there was a man laid out on a sleeping bag, fast asleep. I wondered what he liked to read . . .