Connecting Books With New Homes, Recycled Reads Saves 300 Tons From Landfill
The strip mall at 5335 Burnet in North Austin features a junk thrift store, a nail salon - and a bookstore that saves about 12 tons of books and paper from the Austin landfill each month. Recycled Reads is the Austin Public Library’s innovative way to dispose of books, and some say, the best hidden literary secret in Austin.
“I'm reading "Journey to the Center of the Earth," bought at Recycled Reads for the $1 paperback price. Given that I have no time or money to actually travel (not to mention the physical impossibility of descending into the center of the Earth), it's a good, budget way to experience some adventure,” said Bethany Johnson, a developer for Gato Gordo Web Development. “I go to Recycled Reads because of the entertainment-to-cost ratio."
Before Recycled Reads opened, the Austin Public Library would have a massive sale once a year to clean house, getting rid of overstock. People would fill a box for a set price, and whatever was left over would wind up garbage. Four years ago, the Library opened Recycled Reads as a way to give those items new homes and cut down on waste.
Each week, Recycled Reads receives about 6 pallets of books from the library and another 6 pallets from community donations (see photo). The store’s three employees and 20 volunteers sort through the books, categorize them and then shelve them. The store, which is open to the public, sells hardback books for $2 each, paperbacks for $1 and children’s books for $.50 and has a clearance section with even less expensive options.
Since opening, Recycled Reads has saved more than 300 tons of books, VHS tapes, vinyl records and more from the landfill. Not only is this model a green one and helpful to those Austinites on a budget, Recycled Reads also provides a service to local teachers. Before becoming the manager of Recycled Reads when it opened, Mindy Reed, a 16-year Austin Public Library employee, was a librarian at the Millwood Branch.
“Teachers would come in at the end of the year and end up stuck with tons of library fines after borrowing books for classrooms that would wind up missing or damaged,” she said. “They can come into Recycled Reads and get a lot of books for less money. Someone can come in with a 5-dollar bill and leave quite satisfied.”
There’s also a collectibles section, where some rare books can be found. Currently, Reed has a first-edition copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s "Slaughterhouse Five" in top condition for $175. A few weeks ago, the store sold a first edition of H.G. Wells’ "The Invisible Man" for $500.
In addition to rare finds, employees and volunteers at Recycled Reads also come across items forgotten in book pages from years ago, like receipts, letters and pictures. Items found in the books are on display in the store.
“I love sorting through the books and finding things people haven’t seen,” said Betsy Evans, a master's degree student at the University of North Texas who works at Recycled Reads as an intern for her masters in library and information science degree. “I’ll take pictures of unique books or ones with funny titles.”
With so much volume coming in, not all of those items sell though, and Reed figured out quickly that they’d need to find alternative uses for the books and materials due to what she calls The Da Vinci Code Syndrome.
“At any given time, we’ll get in so many copies of 'The Da Vinci Code' that we could fill a whole room – more than we could ever sell – along with old health and investment books, just things that aren’t useful anymore,” she said.
Reed began a relationship with a company that would recycle the books into construction materials, with profits going to build schools in third-world countries. When that company went under a few years ago, Recycled Reads began working with Goodwill Industries and Image Microsystems to recycle unsold items, which are turned into things like stop signs and traffic cones.
“We are about 98 percent landfill-free, and we’re very proud of that,” Reed said, adding that no other library in the country has a program like Recycled Reads to deal with their overstock. “We like to tell this story not only to let the public know that we’re here but also to show this model to other cities.”
Recycled Reads features a public meeting space, work tables and a children’s area, where the store hosted a program last month that allowed youngsters to practice their reading skills by reading to service dogs.
The store is also hosting craft classes in November and December, where participants learn to turn old book pages into everything from flowers to jewelry beads to table centerpieces, as part of their push for a “green and economic holiday,” Reed said.
“We are very proud of what we have here,” said Reed, standing in the middle of the dozen rows of neatly shelved and displayed books. “It surprises people … from outside, they think it’s something small, and then they come in and say ‘Wow, I had no idea!’”
These are renderings of the design for the new Austin Central Library, a six-story, 170,000-square-foot building that will be built adjacent to the Seaholm redevelopment. The library will be situated just down the street from City Hall, at the end of the Shoal Creek Trail, facing Town Lake. Architects and library officials are calling it a “Library for the Future.”
Although groundbreaking for the project isn’t scheduled until Fall 2013, last night’s approval marks the end of the design development phase for architecture firms Lake Flato from San Antonio and Shepley Bulfinch out of Boston. The design combines Lake Flato’s ability to blend a building with its environment and Shepley Bulfinch’s expertise in library design. Goals include making the library a meeting place that reflects the spirit and environment of Austin and finding a way to showcase technology in a changing world.
The library will include amenities like a children's reading porch, a cafe, a bike garage, a 350-seat auditorium and a roof garden.
Read the complete story on the library, designed as a "living room for all of Austin."