Photograph by Joanna Davila

For Nathaniel Sadler access to free information and books is an essential American right. When Miami’s libraries and bookstores started to close and he noticed reading habits beginning to change, he started Bookleggers.

On a mission to bring back the era of the library, non-profit Bookleggers provides free books to people through a series of unexpected situations and monthly events. According to the Miami-born writer, “the short sexy answer is I wanted to start a library. Since it’s Miami, it helps to make it into sort of a party.”

Originally Bookleggers distributed at local events.  The rules are simple: Take a book, just one. Additional books are $2 and trades are accepted. After three years, Bookleggers has expanded to a group of distribution points throughout the city. The rules are still simple: Free books, please take, just one.

When talking about the popular book box in Wynwood, Sadler reinforces that Bookleggers is for everyone. “It's for the people. And not just the tourists or the Wynwood partiers,” he says.  “The box on NW 2nd Ave gets a ton of action from the local homeless population. I've had more than one of them come up to me and thank me for doing it while filling the box, in sometimes really crushingly sad moments. Homeless people don't have cellphones to stare at all day and a big percentage of them really like to read.”

The books are gathered all from donations, with some bulk donations coming from institutions like the Frost Museum of Science, the Sackner Archive and the Miami Herald before it exited downtown.  “When The Miami Herald left downtown we got every book left in the joint,” says Sadler, but he mentions that everyday people downsizing or moving are the lifebread of the library. “All books are good books to someone.” But they do discourage donations of anything that’s not actually a book – Bookleggers does not want your magazines, DVDs, or VHS.

Each book received is stamped with Ex-libris to indicate that the books have gone through the Booklegger collection. Anything written or left in a book once it’s been donated stays in the book, “You’d be amazed at the stuff people leave in books.,” says Sadler. “I never take anything out so if you leave nudie pics in there the next person is getting it. I believe the things stuffed into a book is important to the life of that book and should not be removed.”

While Sadler tries to shy away from curation, the outposts tend to have a personality of their own: The AIRIE library in the Everglades leans toward Floridiana and The Freehand location is littered with beach reads. For events, he builds specific libraries related to the theme – astronomy libraries at a science event, poetry books for an  O, Miami event – the list goes on.

“Books sometimes have incredible functions, especially when a collection is niche. We hope people can appreciate that on a small scale if just for a bit, “ he says.

Above: Bookleggers founder nathaniel sadler at a 'save the libraries event'.

To keep the project going, rare books are sold via an Etsy store with hopes that one day Bookleggers will have a Bookleggers Special Collections. To participate, pick up or drop off at Wynwood, Made at The Citadel, AIRIE, or The Freehand. To support them, peruse some fancy books here.

Dropbox - NW 2nd Avenue
Wynwood, Miami