The little (free) bookshop round the corner

Every time I go to Libri Liberi with a bag of books to donate, I feel a certain nervousness. This is no ordinary book-crossing venue. The elderly lady who attends to it will take her time to evaluate my volumes one by one, long enough for me to drop my “smug donor” smile, gravely enough for me to flash a “good girl” grin when she finally displays a sign of appreciation for my literary choices. No, this is no ordinary book-crossing and luckily so.

With its three big windows and three high-ceiling rooms, impeccable tidiness and neatly organized shelves, Libri Liberi looks like an elegant independent bookshop, and kind of is, with just one discordant detail: there is no cash register to be seen. As a matter of fact, there aren’t any price tags either: books are free here (hence the name), but the experience you have is just the same as if you were browsing titles in a regular second-hand bookshop.

This is no small detail. Despite the global trend of book-crossing, it is rather difficult to find a whole “shop” devoted to it, and even less frequent to find your donated books so carefully divided into categories and on display in a quiet, serene atmosphere. Basically, the full bookshop experience, “purchase” included, at zero price.

The adventure of Libri Liberi started some five years ago when Anna Hilbe (the above mentioned lady), a former professor and translator, decided to import to Bologna the idea of The Book Thing of Baltimore, a free bookstore in the United States. It really wasn’t her first bookshop experience thought: back in the Seventies, Hilde had been a founding member of the first women’s bookshop in Bologna. She was also as a second-wave feminist and before that she had gained first-hand experience of the San Francisco counterculture thanks to a nomad period between Bologna and California.

When she retired, she opened a little free shop on Via San Petronio Vecchio es an experiment, imagining to spend a couple of days per week in it. Much to her surprise, the idea proved successful, it gained national publicity and turned so popular that it eventually had to be moved to the larger, prettier venue on Via Fondazza (incidentally Bologna’s first “social street“), that is now open full time Monday to Saturday. Libri Liberi hosts fiction and essays, biographies and literary critique, as well as children’s books and a little selection of novels in French, English and Spanish. Any new addition in other languages is welcome.

There is no obligation to bring any book if you want to get one for yourself, nor to return what you took there once you’re finished reading, but both actions are welcome. And, like I said, everything passes through Anna’s careful selection. I felt proud when she declared that she thought she had read everything from Edith Wharton before I brought A Mother’s Recompense, and kind of ashamed when she turned down a couple of self-help book I had probably bought on impulse ages ago during some crises. But it felt so nice, the first time I entered Libri Liberi on a not-so-affluent moment of my freelance life, to have this free option to gratify my literary impulse needs, that I felt obliged to give back ever since. I guess this must be how book-crossing works.

Libri Liberi

via Fondazza 40

40125 Bologna

Monday: 16:00 -19:00

Tuesday – Wednesday: 10:30 – 12:30 16:00 – 19:00

Thursday: Closed

Friday – Saturday: 10:30 – 12:30 16:00 – 19:00

Sunday: Closed


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