Bookleggers Launches Kickstarter to Fund Bookbox Project

Bookleggers Library founding member Nathaniel Sandler loves to read — at the beach, in a tent at The Everglades, at Shuckers Bar & Grill (not on a game day, of course). At a time when libraries face ongoing financial threats, Sandler and crew know the challenges in keeping the rest of Miami reading as well. 

The non-profit community mobile library has built a steady following over the past few years, both at its monthly rotating venue stops at bars, parks, and galleries, and its ever-growing number of semi-permanent and public access points for books. At each print-centric event, the rules remain the same: Everyone gets one book for free; Bookleggers accepts trades, a book for a book; and each additional book is $2. From art books to famous fiction, Bookleggers often contains buried treasure, much of it unique to the Miami literary scene. 

With 200 to 400 people attending each book-laden gathering, Bookleggers hopes to reach even more people through its Bookbox Project, where the group installs niche and small libraries designed for their specific locations and surrounding communities. The crown jewel Bookbox can be found on NW 2nd Ave on the side of Gallery Diet, and Bookleggers recently agreed to put libraries at Lotus House and are in preliminary talks with Holtz Children's Hospital at Jackson Memorial. 

Given a $30,000 push this year from the Knight Foundation to continue the community outreach, Bookleggers must now reach out to the public to match that grant. The non-profit set up a Kickstarter campaign with a $6,305 goal, which is open for backers until October 26. We caught up with Sandler to talk about the project, books, and where Bookleggers is going.

New Times: How have things evolved since receiving the Knight grant?
Nathaniel Sandler: God bless the Knight Foundation. It's amazing what a little bit of cash can do for a project. We've unveiled the new brand and logo which was done by Seth Labenz of Topos Graphics, who is a consummate pro and a good pal. We've gotten a new sandwich board bookshelf sign for events made by Creative Creative. But most importantly we've been able to put a lot of the infrastructure that a non-profit needs in place. With regards to the Bookbox Project, we've been able to partner up with people doing meaningful work in the community, like Lotus House, without worrying about the fiscal concerns both organizations would have in doing a project together.

I think the best word for Knight's stamp of approval is "validation." We feel validated in having worked so hard for the past three years, but also people now see it as a valid organization and not just a weirdo with too many books in his car. 

How has the city responded to the Bookbox Project?
I think, particularly the box in Wynwood, has been amazing for putting Bookleggers in people's heads, which is cool. It's the best advertising I could have asked for. The library has grown much further than my initial circle, and to know that people recognize and remember those green stripes really gives me feels. What's so great about that particular box is that everyone uses it — and I mean everyone. Tourists, locals, Wynwood types, and those just on art safari. I get tons of homeless people that walk by and thank me personally... when I'm refilling it. Remember, homeless dudes don't have a cellphone to stare at all day. A book helps them get by and Bookleggers is super proud to be doing what we can to make someones life on the street a little bit easier.

Bookleggers shoppers browse books in South Florida.
Bookleggers shoppers browse books in South Florida.

How do you select which books to include?
It really depends. Something like the AIRIE residency (Artist in Residence in the Everglades) requires Floridiana, especially because so many people go down there not having a full intellectual backbone on the landscape. Most of them are better off not being curated because picking a book is an intimate experience; you can't force a book on someone, and everyone likes different stuff.

Where are you itching to install a Bookbox?
We're trying to line up the right partners, and without getting too far into it, certain projects are very easy and certain projects take up way more time then they should. The problem isn't the building, but it's the keeping them filled. We refill the box on the side of Gallery Diet every two days. That's a commitment. Obviously, some locations are less trafficked, but if I had an opportunity to put one on Ocean Drive, how would I keep it full? I can't pay $20 to park every other day to give away books to out-of-towners. I think that for that reason they work in hyper local moments. And [we] try to suit them to that environment. We're meeting this week with Holtz Children's Hospital and they need kids books, any age. The AIRIE library in the Everglades needs books about South Florida flora and fauna.

So what's my dream spot? Without sounding too cynical, I guess it depends on how much of a hassle it ends up being. I'd love to put one on Monument Island, or one of the picnic islands in Biscayne Bay, but I don't even have a boat, how would I refill it? More realistically, I'd like to put one in the park in Miami Shores by where I grew up at the end of 96th street, it's called North Bayshore Park, but no one ever calls it that. Just call it "The Bay."

What are some of your favorite reading spots, be it libraries or otherwise?
The Beach (anywhere). UM Special Collections. Shuckers (not on gameday). South Point Park. Vizcaya. Bill Baggs. In a tent in the Everglades. Outside of a tent in the Everglades. Anywhere outdoors. But in a month. Wait a month. Read inside for a little bit longer. 

Bookleggers' Bookbox Project Kickstarter campaign will run through Monday, October 26 and is currently under its $6,305 goal. To become a backer, visit kickstarter.com.

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