The Airport Book Exchange Turns 3!
July 27, 2022
July 12th marked the third anniversary of the Airport Book Exchange at Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE). Paula Bonstein, Customer Experience Manager, was inspired to start the program after attending a Customer Service Symposium. In partnership with Allentown Public Library, Bethlehem Area Public Library, and Easton Area Public Library, the Airport Book Exchange was created with a simple premise: Take a book, leave a book. Passengers can take any book (or books) that appeals to them or can leave a book when they are finished with it. All of the books are free to enjoy. Located near Gate 7 in the Wilfred M. “Wiley” Post Jr. Concourse, the Airport Book Exchange bookshelf is a popular stopping point for readers of all ages.
The bulk of the books are donated by our Library partners, who drop off 2-3 boxes of books per week, with Airport staff and volunteer book donations making up the rest. The books are then inspected (for marks or “bookmarks”) and then stickered as part of the program before making their way to the shelves. Books that are left on the shelf go through the same process.
There are bookmarks available at the bookshelf, but many of the donated books have come with substitutes. The most popular being restaurant and bookstore business cards, then boarding passes, and postcards. The most interesting so far was a laminated one-thousand dollar bill, perhaps a souvenir from a past trip.
The stickers are generally placed inside the front covers, or wherever it won’t interfere with artwork, and reads: “Enjoy this book from Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE) and your local Lehigh Valley Libraries! Let us know where it ends up by posting a picture of your book on its travels with #FlyABEreads.” We love to see social media posts of how people are enjoying a good read while on vacation!
“I guess there are never enough books.” John Steinbeck, American Author and Nobel Prize winner
A Gallup survey posted in December 2021 found that while the same percentage of people in the US who are reading remained steady at 17%, fewer books were being read over the course of a year. At ABE, the Book Exchange has seen a steady rise in the number of books taken from (and left on) the shelves.
Since January 2022, over 1,700 books have been stickered and set out on the Airport Book Exchange. That’s a rough average of 65 books taken per week—an impressive number considering the popularity of e-books and audiobooks.
Young Adult and Children’s books are now flying off the shelves due to more families traveling during the summer break, romance books are always popular, and no book delivery is complete without books from Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson, and John Grisham—which leave the shelves as quickly as they are set out. Oversized books do not go as quickly, but rarely does a book stay on the bookshelf for more than two weeks. All genres can be found at some point or another: romance, crime, LGBTQIA, historical fiction and non-fiction, fantasy, educational, cookbooks, etc. You never quite know what kind of treasure you’ll find.
The bookshelf is taken care of by staff and volunteers. It is tidied and re-stocked daily. ABE Navigator volunteer Karen Bader has been helping with the bookshelf since the program began. “When I am loading the shelves, passengers do come up and say, ‘What a great idea!’ They comment on the quality of the books and the selection. I think it’s a wonderful gift to our passengers.”
Libraries and book exchange programs have been hosted at airports around the world for years, some being moveable bookshelves like the one at ABE, some offer digital books, and some have permanent shelves. Big or small, the popularity of having these free libraries at airports doesn’t appear to be waning.
Jennifer Long, Library Director at Easton Area Public Library, coordinates the book donations to be delivered to ABE. “I think the Airport Book Exchange is an important community program. Air travelers can face a lot of anxiety in their travels. Studies have proven that reading can help calm anxiety and stress within individuals. There is no better escape than getting lost in a book.”
We couldn’t agree more.