David Trinko: Woman finds a good home for good books in Wapakoneta

WAPAKONETA — It sounds more like a riddle than a reality.

What has more than 3,500 books, but no bookshelves?

What do you call a place that welcomes you in for four hours each Sunday and doesn’t want your money, yet it’s not a charity?

What do you call something with plenty of titles for you to read that doesn’t want them back, but it definitely isn’t a library?

Welcome to Homeless Books, 401 E. Auglaize St., Wapakoneta. It’s not a used bookstore. It’s not a library. It’s, well, we’ll just call it a place you have to see to believe (or understand) since it opened its doors in early April.

“My goal every week is to have a conversation that doesn’t have somebody ask me about the money side of it,” said Frances Springer, the curator of this curious collection. “Sometimes I feel like our society puts too much thought or too much emphasis on money.”

Springer is not independently wealthy, working a full-time job during the week and sharing her love of reading between 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays. It also has a Facebook page at bit.ly/44TzQoP.

The sign on the glass door explains it as well as it can be explained: “Need a book. Take a book. Got a book. Leave a book.”

Springer joked a professor in college would “probably call me an epic failure for not having a profit-making business.” Some people save money to go on vacations, she says, but she prefers saving to buy unusual books to share.

Its titles are as eclectic as its decor. Springer doesn’t catalog or organize the books, aside from a children’s section, a foreign language area and a “Mystery Morgue” in the former florist shop’s walk-in cooler. She repurposes old items to hold the books until they find their way into the hands of their next reader.

That’s how Nora Roberts’ “The Collector” can end up next to Linda Anderson’s “35 Golden Keys to Who You Are & Why You’re Here” and Naomi Alderman’s “The Future,” all on the bottom shelf of a piece of furniture Springer constructed from old 7-Up bottle cases.

“They’re all recycled or upcycled,” Springer said. “I didn’t want traditional long, tall bookcases. I wanted something unique, and I think I achieved it.”

She thoroughly cleaned all of the used books, to the point it didn’t smell like a musty old book repository. She bought many of the books but also accepted donations. Some of the most mangled books that weren’t suitable for forever homes found their way to the checkout stand, with a cleverly built mosaic of book spines with the names pointed outward.

There’s also an area to build puzzles, using her grandparents’ puzzle table from their home. Springer prefers 1,000-piece Charles Wysocki puzzles, quipping she’s a “puzzle snob.”

The children’s area defies the “don’t touch” kids face outside those magical doors. Youth are invited to climb under the brightly red-painted former kitchen cabinets that now sit on the floor and fidget away with the switches, bells and hinges on the other side.

There is no Wi-Fi or TV cable in the place, but there is certainly a world’s worth of stories. Springer hasn’t seen a huge influx of people yet, especially advertising by word of mouth and via Facebook. Road construction near the building slows the foot traffic too, to the point Springer can converse with every guest coming inside.

“I felt like Sunday afternoon can be typically a slow day for a lot of people,” Springer said. “There’s not a whole lot of things going on or activities going on or businesses open. I thought it would be a good fit for people to spend time bringing their families in and, well, just coming in to hang out.”

Soon, the building will be ready for overnight guests, with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette set up. Whoever stays there will have the run of the place — books, puzzles and all, said Springer, a Wapakoneta native who now lives outside Lima.

Homeless Books started as a mobile trailer back in 2017, and Springer still brings it to some community events. She decided to make the books free, so people could take as long as they wanted without feeling any guilt or shame.

“One of the reasons I started the book trailer is because I am a very slow reader,” she said. “When I was growing up at the time, you had to go in and read your book and, after like 10 or 14 days, return it to the library. I felt very embarrassed by that because a lot of times I would not get it read in that timeframe. I just stopped going altogether.”

The model for Homeless Books alleviates that, all in a rather eclectic setting.

“There’s no pressure to read the books,” Springer said. “There’s no pressure to return them or take care of them if something happens to them. … You can leave them in little free libraries. You can leave them somewhere on vacation. You can give them to your friend if you think they’ll like the book. You can keep it. You could pass it on or donate it back.”


See past columns by David Trinko at LimaOhio.com/tag/trinko.

David Trinko is editor of The Lima News. Reach him at 567-242-0467, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.