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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

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Logan Square Book Exchange

Though it would surely strike fear in the heart of illegal-newspaper-box-hating Mayor David Miller, a recent trip to Chicago witnessed an act of public art and generosity that our own city would do well to adopt — in spirit if not to the letter itself.

The Logan Square Book Exchange — and more recently, the Logan Square Video Exchange — lies somewhere between guerilla gifting and that innocuous cardboard pile of books left on somebody’s curb for public rifling. Only Ryan Duggan’s idea is more stylish, activistic, and less likely to let all the free books get rained on.

In an article in the Chicago Reader in August 2006, Duggan explained the idea as somewhat of a rational epiphany: a solution to a problem no one had yet noticed, but everyone would appreciate.

“One day I just woke up and thought, if I took one of those boxes and repainted it, I could fit a lot of books in there.”

The appropriated newspaper box, itself a former Reader vessel, sits at the corner of Logan Boulevard and Kedzie Avenues, billing itself as the “Community Book Exchange: Logan Square Branch”. Alongside it sits a newer friend, the Logan Square Video Exchange box — perhaps uglier and more mysterious, but just as enticingly packed full of discarded art and entertainment as its more stylish literary pal.

And how exactly did Duggan install his benevolent art-piece-cum-bit-o’- revolutionary-socialism? He posed as a, uh, newspaper box repairman and temporarily removed the Reader box for “upgrading”, busying himself on a cell phone the whole time. The exchange has continued to thrive since July of last year — and enjoys a healthy turnover of good-quality books and videos that have simply outlasted their owners’ needs and are ready, as the euphemism goes, to move on to new opportunities.

And though it’s true that huge cities on the scale of Chicago may have just that much more room for creativity and an artistic populace that could create such happenings as this — it’s still somehow tiny and heartening to see something like a humble, elegant, book exchange box persist unmolested in the dense metropolitan grid of a city like my hometown. Here’s to more of the same, with branches across Chicago, and beyond it.



  1. That’s a great idea.

    So is busying yourself on a cell phone. That is the cover for getting away with just about anything.

  2. That is pretty cool. I may track down that book excahnge since we live a couple of miles away only-from the Chicago one.

    Another thing we like to do once or twice a year is have a book swap party. Everyone brings books they no longer want and takes whatever interests them. Always fun.

  3. I thought Chicago got rid of its boxes in favour of those multi-publication mega-boxes… or is that just in certain parts of town?

  4. Mark> When I was there in July I saw the multi-boxes in the Loop area and on Magnificent Mile only. The other parts had the usual separate boxes.

  5. This is a great idea, fun, cheap and engaging. Someone needs to do this here. Maybe the folks at Grassroots could be convinced to host one in front of their stores as it encourages re-use?

  6. There is, or at least was, a book etc. exchange like this on Algonquin Island in the Toronto Islands, though it wasn’t in an old newspaper box. They did clothes, too. It was there a couple of years ago, but I’m not sure of its current status.

  7. That is so awesome. It’s quite similar to the idea of Bookcrossing, but I definitely like this incarnation, with an established point of exchange and total public access at all hours of the day (all those times I hankered for a book of mystery origin at three in the morning ….).

  8. That’s a great idea.

    So is busying yourself on a cell phone. That is the cover for getting away with just about anything.