Books from shuttered Camden library find new homes

Thousands of books from the long shuttered Camden Free Public Library on Federal Street we're picked up by two organizations that will in turn give them away. (Photo: Tom Martin)

Thousands of books from the long shuttered Camden Free Public Library on Federal Street we're picked up by two organizations that will in turn give them away. (Photo: Tom Martin)

The Camden Public Free Library has been closed for a decade. Books that populated its downtown branch at 5th and Federal streets sat idle until December of 2021.

The collection, which included bilingual children’s books and works by authors of color, were split between two organizations – the Camden County Pop-Up Library and Booksmiles.

Both organizations will in turn give the books away to others.

“They’re wonderful because they actually seem to care about getting the books out of there,” said Tom Martin, executive director of the pop-up library, when speaking about the current owners of the building, Scungio Borst & Associates.

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The building, originally built in 1905, has been in the hands of developers since 2017. According to the Courier Post, the space is being cleaned out to make room for a café and office space.

“We knew we had to find a home for all these books,” Jesse Thompson, a project manager for the construction firm, told the paper.

The pop-up library, a separate organization from the county library system, carted off at least 50 boxes.

“I was just so excited to get in there,” Martin said. “I just started taking shelves at a time, putting the books into boxes.”

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Among the works that he took with him were by Alex Haley and Toni Morrison, among other writers of color.

“It’s very rare that I get donated books by and for people of color,” he said. “That’s 50% of my audience, or even more so,” Martin added.

The bounty was way too large for Martin’s storage unit in Pennsauken. He had help from Julie Beddingfield, a board member of the pop-up library, who stored the books in the basement of her store, Inkwood Books, in Haddonfield.

She said both of their vehicles were packed with as many books as possible.

“He has a Subaru hatchback and I have a Mercedes wagon,” she said adding that their vehicles were low to the ground after being “laid in down with that many books.”

“They certainly were not designed to carry the weight of those books, but we were just real careful to drive slowly on our way back,” she added.

Booksmiles used their box truck to cart away 2,000 books. Larry Abrams, founder of the organization, said he and a couple of friends took as many children’s books as possible.

“The great thing is that they were almost all bilingual/Spanish or books representing diversity,” he said. “We rarely get children’s books like these donated.”

Based in Cherry Hill, Booksmiles primarily gives books to children. Abrams says they are running out of room and that a capital campaign is underway.

“In our current small location, we’re moving between 25,000 and 30,000 books per month,” Abrams said. “That’s enough to fill a semi.”

Abrams said he told Martin about the literary treasure box on Federal Street after hearing about it through someone connected to the construction company.

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