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Open Books marks 10 years of helping Chicago’s underprivileged schools

Margot Horn picked up one of many books stacked haphazardly along a plastic table and traded it for a smaller paperback one. She said that she has already read most of the books sitting in front of her and she’s ready for more.

“I like mysteries and I’m looking for paperbacks to take back on the bus when I commute,” she said, speaking over the live background music playing at Old Town School of Folk Music in Ravenswood. Horn picked up a couple more books, sliding them into a white tote bag with the word “Reader” written across it. The first 100 book swappers in line got the bag for free.
IMG_2973Chicago Reader hosted the book swap event at Old Town in April, part of a sponsorship for Open Books, a Chicago-based nonprofit that does two to three book swaps a year.   Open Books is marking its 10th year in 2016, continuing to spread awareness on literacy issues throughout Chicago.

People from across the city gathered to exchange books, with only conditions for participating: 1) to drop off at least one book, and 2) to take no more than 15 titles in return. Book swappers from all age groups filled the room and bonded over titles while a local folk band, Jones & Savage, played throughout the night.

Janie Bryant, a 26-year-old avid reader, had come to recycle and re-purpose old books. “I actually dropped off teen fiction and I’m looking at the teen fiction,” she said about her favorite genre.

Horn, who had picked up several books, said that the highlight of the event was the organization itself. “It’s a good chance to recycle books and get other ones, and then to also support a great great organization, Open Books,” she said.

Open Books started collecting books in a basement and expanded from there. The founder, a kind green-haired woman named Stacy Ratner, decided that she wanted to impact Chicago in a worthwhile way, so she deiced to give books to communities and schools that were in need. Now the organization has two locations in Pilsen, 905 W. 19th St., and the West Loop, 651 W. Lake St.

Noah Cruickshank, a volunteer marketing manager at Open Book, explained that the organization provides books, as well as one-on-one programming for children across the city.

“There’s a lot of schools out there where the books that are in their classrooms are entirely from us,” he said. “We’re aiming to give away about 125,000 books to schools and nonprofits across the city, and what that means is that we build classroom libraries.”

The book swap events is one of the ways Open Books is able to collect titles to donate. After each swap, the organization takes the leftover books to sell into stores, with proceeds going to support their literacy programs, Cruickshank said.

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