It’s a different concept of bookshop, the one I was introduced to in Verona: A BOOKSHOP AS A PLACE OF CULTURAL AGGREGATION, WHERE PEOPLE MEET AND SHARE. Not a simple shop where you buy books, but a place in which many people get together to share not only their readings but also their experiences and passions.
Lia Rigoni is the creator of the Libre! project, a bookshop/cooperative in Verona’s old town, Veronetta. She had been working for 20 years in her father’s bookshop, Rinascita, in the city centre, where working teams and a concept of the book as a shared resource already existed. After Rinascita closed down, Lia decided to carry on the business and three years ago, on September 21st 2013, she opened her bookshop with the help of MAG and the first members, whose number has now reached 309 – and she has every intention to keep growing.
By paying a subscription of 100 euros you can buy a share of the bookshop and the right – along with the pleasure – to be actively involved in its life.
At Libre! human resources are considered as a source of wealth. Regardless of the subscription paid, every member has a single vote and not only have they bought a part of the bookshop but, if they wish, they can propose their own activities and titles and be actively – and above all autonomously – involved in the cultural life of the cooperative.
One of the members, for example, is a physician who is carrying out a research project on psychosomatics: she studies how psychological factors affect health and to what extent individuals can be treated as whole beings without relying on pharmaceuticals. She organizes meetings and suggests titles, redirecting all her contacts to the bookshop.
You don’t need to be a member of the cooperative to buy books and/or attend meetings; members have the advantage of a loyalty card entitling them to a discount and a different fee in case they want to use the common spaces.
Seven members are active daily and they are the most involved in organizational activities; there are then about 50 other active members and the rest are not active, but many of them, it has to be specified, are off-site, because you don’t need to live in Verona to become a member.
Marcella Zardini, one of the members who are active on a daily basis, tells me, “I fell in love with this place as soon as I found out about it, I have put so much into it. My goal is to make my work economically feasible” (she loves illustration and deals with anything related to it) “and we are all striving to make the bookshop, the cooperative grow. We bet on aggregation, on acting as a social container with a lot of events that are not focused on a single theme, but deal with various topics in order to meet everybody’s taste. Together we try to promote culture and to differentiate ourselves from online booksellers by offering our customers the opportunity to deal with a person in the flesh, something that Amazon is not yet able to do... ” she laughs. “Soon they will throw books at us from the sky!”.
In this bookshop you won’t find the most successful best sellers, but thematic shelves selected by the members. Members buy the most appealing books from the wholesaler, which ensures the supply of all titles, including the most commercial ones. They would also like to start delivering books by bicycle soon, for a social and above all sustainable Veronetta.
They also organize activities outside of the bookshop, setting up bookstands in the places where they are invited, including schools.
Furthermore, Libre! has a wonderful room, with comfortable and wide wooden tables, chairs, a toilet, and large windows that let light in the room. It is available for members (and everyone else) to organize any kind of activity permitted by law. It costs 40 euros per day – 30 if you are a member – and offers the opportunity to organize meetings, seminars, and courses even on a weekly basis. It can be a source of income for the members who do not earn any money from the bookshop.
It’s surprising, isn’t it? There are still people who believe in community, who do not linger on differences but on the things we have in common. A reality that invites us to share experiences starting from a book, a book that deals with many topics. A reality that gives us the opportunity to develop an activity based on our interests and to have a source of income to sustain us. Just when I thought that the world was falling apart... I was wrong.