post-it note array of early neighborhood book exchange questions.

On the value of exploratory research

I don’t know whether neighborhood book exchanges live up to the claims of providing ‘icebreakers’ or ‘literary watercoolers’ for passersby. But I do know that inventorying a book exchange in the early morning rain tends to prompt conversation—at least the “what are you doing?” variety.

After explaining that I was contributing to a study of neighborhood book exchanges, most left it at that. But several probed further: “what’s your hypothesis?”

My answer, ”It’s not that kind of research. It’s exploratory.”, was always received with dubious or dismissive looks.

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a neighborhood book exchange on the corner of a neighborhood intersection

Research Digest: The Rise of Neighborhood Book Exchanges

There is something striking in stumbling upon a small hutch perched by the sidewalk and filled with books. It is unexpected, unusual, charming.

Recently, these neighborhood book exchanges have captivated mainstream media; hundreds of media stories have been published in the last few years. But neighborhood book exchanges have been quietly propagating through North American neighborhoods for twenty years, at least. Why have they suddenly captured so much attention?

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