“The dumpster is too small and it costs too much to empty too often,” said Spring Lake resident Linda Namenye, a volunteer for the free book library, Embrace Books, in Muskegon.
So, she started taking home bins of damaged or moldy books and tore out the pages while she watched television. The pages go into a paper-recycling bin, which Namenye then transports to one of the paper collection sites at churches in Spring Lake.
“That’s how I spend my Saturday nights,” she said, smiling.
Namenye, a self-professed organizer, also came up with some rules for organization and material recycling at the book center located in the lower level of the former Front Porch Church (now the Muskegon branch of All Shores Wesleyan Church), 1050 W. Southern Ave. Cardboard boxes that are no longer useable are flattened and taken to the recycling center at Muskegon Community College.
“Each open day, I probably recycle about 200 pounds of paper and about two carloads of cardboard,” she said.
Those are some of the reasons that her daughter, Embrace Books founder Taleah Greve, nominated Namenye to be a Muskegon Area Sustainability Champion. Greve will give her mother the award during an Earth Week ceremony on April 23. The award ceremony, sponsored by Darling Cetaceans and the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition, is part of the Muskegon Area Earth Week.
“I’m very excited about the award,” Namenye said, “when I think about all that we are recycling.”
Embrace Books won one of the sustainability awards, as well, three years ago.
Greve’s vision was to give away books and, in February 2015, the one-room library opened on the main floor of the Muskegon church. At that time, the library had two sections and contained 2,000 books. Now spread across several rooms in the lower level of the building, still made available to the organization by All Shores Wesleyan Church, the collection numbers 15,000 on the shelves, with another 50,000 books in boxes waiting for space on the shelves.
There’s an adult fiction room, a nonfiction room and a children’s area, all painted in bright, welcoming colors.
“Now we just need more people to come in to get books so we can put more books on the shelves,” Namenye said.
The free book library is open to the public on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, from 12-5 p.m. There are no restrictions or qualifications. Anyone can come in and get some books.
There is a donation box, but a donation is not required, Namenye said. Sometimes people return the books and sometimes they don’t, she added. They don’t keep track.
Book donations are also accepted during the posted open hours.
Namenye said they would like to be open every Saturday, but that can only happen if they get more volunteers.
Volunteers act as greeters, sort and stamp books, and carry boxes of books around the building. Namenye said anyone interested in volunteering can sign up online at embracebooks.org.
Namenye said she got involved with the free library when she stopped by once to help her daughter.
“I thought, ‘This is so cool,’” she said.
Namenye then became more involved with the organization of the “back of the shop,” as she calls it.
The workrooms not open to the public are stacked high with banana boxes full of books. The only open areas are the sorting tables, where volunteers sort books into categories, stamp them with a message that they are not for resale and rebox them. The boxes then go into storage rooms for the three different areas of the library.
As visitors clear the shelves, volunteers bring out more boxes of books and restock.
Namenye said the books come from estates, a book consignment store and some libraries.
Anyone wanting to donate books can bring them to the library during regular open hours. The library does not take magazines, yearbooks, old encyclopedias, pamphlets or books that are water damaged, moldy or animal-infested.
“We found a dead bird in one box,” Namenye said.
Volunteers also go to other events to give away books. On Muskegon Adoption Day, they manned a table and gave away parenting books. They also gave away 900 books at a health and fitness event.
“Norton Shores had a community prayer day and we gave away religious books there,” Namenye said.
Embrace Books is also a resource for other nonprofit agencies, supplying books for classrooms and waiting rooms.
“We just want to enable those who are trying to help others,” Namenye said.
Each day the free library is open, they give out 1,500 to 2,000 books, Namenye said. They will usually have 100-150 people come through the door.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they offer free wrapping for people who want to use the books for Christmas presents.
“The whole purpose of this isn’t to make money,” Namenye said. “It’s to get books in the hands of people who love books and can’t afford them. This is making books affordable for people. It is also keeping them out of the garbage.”