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Before I’d even entered the building for my first day of work, I encountered something that ended up a significant part of my Scrap Exchange experience: books.

However, these books were almost unrecognizable. They had no covers. They were almost entirely black, with only a few words left discernable. I was unable to tell how old they were, their condition, whether they were romance novels or science textbooks. They came from a Lending Library that had previously stood outside the Scrap Exchange front door. What’s left of the Lending Library is now ash; someone had set fire to it the night before I got there. I was surprised, but I was alone in that feeling. Apparently that sort of stuff happens occasionally at the Scrap Exchange.


Fast forward a few weeks, and I am completely surrounded by books. Hundreds of books. A fellow Duke Engage student (Nathan Keene) and I had the task of researching, pricing, and shelving the books that arrived in troves. Though we encountered almost every type of book, we especially enjoyed researching and pricing the vintage books that arrived in the store. We saw everything from copies of Shakespeare to vintage medical books on children‘s skin disease. Most books were selling online for about five dollars, but occasionally we would stumble upon a book that sells for hundreds! Some of the fondest memories I have from my time at the Scrap Exchange are when we would find an extremely interesting book and share with our co-workers. We even found an old picture book of Duke from the 1940’s.


The incident we experienced on our first day left me skeptical of how impactful our work would be. How many people actually buy books anymore? Does the local community value the antique books as much as we do? We spent so many hours organizing and reorganizing the bookshelves, but was it worth the time?

To my surprise, every single day we would come into work to find the bookshelves less full than they were when we left them. Books would be snatched up within minutes of being shelved. The book aisle of the Scrap Exchange was always in need of our attention; we were happy to spend hours there. So many different kinds of people appreciated the unique book collection at the Scrap Exchange.

And the community’s attitude towards the books was reflected in monthly sales. Our supervisor showed us graphs of monthly sales trends, and book sales were significantly higher than they had been in previous months. It was extremely satisfying to see the work we put in had made a tangible difference. I learned a lot from these books, and not only from the information contained in them. I learned the importance of small tasks in non-profits- they often make a big difference. And I was able to experience first-hand how books can bring communities together.