Monday, April 24, 2006

Changing the world one book at a time

There's a heartwarming article at about Irwin Herman, a gentleman who has given away more than eight million books to those in need. He began almost 17 years ago when, bored with his brand-new retirement from the appliance-repair business, he learned that the men at the local jail had no books to read.

Mr. Herman rounded up some books for them. Then he started giving books to schoolkids, and things got a little crazy after that. In the beginning the free-book operation was contained in Herman's garage. Soon he filled up six garages, and finally he moved into a warehouse provided by a supporter of his work. He explains:

"To jails alone we give 100,000 paperbacks yearly. Juvie Hall is separate. They find me, God bless 'em. I never say no to anybody. Mental health services. St. Vincent. East Mesa Detention Center. AA group for teenagers. Anybody who calls me and says, 'I need books for such-and-such group,' I say, 'Come on over. And bring empty boxes.'"

He gives lots of books to children.

"If I get one kid not to go to jail...all $156,000 of mine, plus 16 years, will be worth it. Not that I'm a wealthy man. But you get a child reading at age three to five, I don't have to take them books later in jail."

Here's how he operates his not-for-profit business:

"I buy by the box. I'll go to house sales and say, 'I acquire books and give them away.' Eight times out of 10 they'll give them to me, two times I'll cut a deal. I hate bureaucracy. I got no time for meetings – the kids might miss out."

Anyone can pack up boxes of free books and take them home. But to view Mr. Herman's warehouse as a bargain-hunter's paradise is to miss the point:

"I don't encourage the average consumer to come here. Go to a bookstore. That's how they make their living.”

“Indian Nations of Four Corners came to me and said, 'We don't have money.' I said, 'Bring a truck.'”

Thanks to for the link.

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