Good news for people who like good news: on November 21st, a brand new used book store with a conscience and a mission as large and weighty as your favorite Dickens novel opened for business in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. Open Books is an ongoing, wide-ranging literacy non-profit begun in Chicago in 2006.
The project grew out of Executive Director Stacy Ratner’s basement, with volunteers gathering used books, and working towards gaining non-profit status. Now, just three years and 300,000 books later, they’re celebrating the grand opening of their brand new three story, 15,000 square foot literacy center and used bookstore. And this is not your average dingy, musty old used bookstore. Housed inside an old bicycle factory, the space has high loft ceilings, weird and wonderful artwork, brightly colored shelves (on wheels so that the space can be reconfigured for special events), a children’s area, a stage, and a lounge. The founders are hoping to make Open Books the center of Chicago’s literacy movement, with revenue from the store (as well as additional book sales online) being used to fund their many literacy programs. With a small staff, a few interns, and more than 2,000 volunteers, Open Books runs four separate reading and writing programs for Chicagoans of all ages and reading levels. From Open Books Buddies, which matches adults with children in Chicago and Evanston schools for one-on-one reading sessions, to VWrite, where Chicago teens are matched with professional mentors to assist them with college and career writing (such as applications, resumes, and essays), to WeWrite, a writing program for ESL adults, Open Books aims to serve all who want assistance with their literacy skills. According to a statistic on their website, 53% of adults in Chicago have low or limited literacy skills. But with Open Books as a vibrant new hub for literacy action in our community and an army of volunteers to bring the joy of reading to those who need it, that number won’t stand a chance.