The Book Thing – Baltimore, Maryland - Atlas Obscura

The Book Thing

This free, take-a-book shop seems like a trick but isn't. 


Little, free libraries are popping up all over major cities across America; but in Baltimore, this really gigantic free library was way ahead of its time. 

The Book Thing of Baltimore is a delightful and anomalous building near Johns Hopkins campus that functions as a free book shop where customers are prohibited from paying a single cent for anything on its shelves. 

Founded in September 1999 by former bartender Russel Wattenberg after overhearing local teachers lamenting an inability to provide their impoverished students with reading materials, The Book Thing is operated entirely by a staff of volunteers. The store’s extensive catalogue consists of a vast array of books and magazines, continually replenished through a system of in-person and mail-in donations.

A few simple tenets form The Book Thing’s only hard and fast rules: visitors are firmly forbidden from paying for any book, even when they offer; let browsers choose whatever book they want; and reselling of books is a big no-no. Anyone and everyone is invited to stop by, peruse at his or her leisure, and leave with “up to 150,000 volumes per day, per person.”

Update October 2017: The Book Thing was temporarily closed after a fire, but it’s back open!

Know Before You Go

The Book Thing is currently open only one day per month, usually the second Saturday or Sunday. You can find out more information about their Facebook page ( It is walking distance from the Red, Silver, 22, and 51 bus lines.

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