The clanging of the bells against the glass door alerts sales associate, Christian Green, that Carpe Librum bookstore has its first customer of the day. It’s 11:00am on the dot on a Monday morning in February. The shelves of used books wake up from their nightly slumber, excited at the prospect of finding new homes on coffee tables and nightstands, backpacks and back pockets of Carpe Librum’s customers. Having worked at this bookstore for several years, Christian has come to know the books and the customers well. She can tell you off the top of her head if we have a specific book in stock and she can anticipate when the regulars will stop in on their lunch breaks to browse the shelves. “There’s something special about this bookstore,” notes Christian. “People feel welcome and continue to come back.”
Carpe Librum is the fundraising bookstore for Turning the Page, where all proceeds support our parent engagement programs in Ward 8 public schools. Through book drives and individual donations, Turning the Page staff members collect and resell (for a bargain price) donated books, CDs, and DVDs. For three years, Carpe Librum has had a home at 1030 17th Street NW, around the corner from the Farragut North metro, and has also had several pop-up bookstores around the city, including the neighborhoods of NoMa and Mount Vernon, and on college campuses like George Washington and Georgetown. Since the first pop-up bookstore many moons ago, Carpe Librum has garnered a strong customer base that has continued to grow. As a relatively new staff member to Turning the Page, I sometimes ask myself, what is it about Carpe Librum that makes it so special?
After several months of observation, I feel that I’ve found the answer to that question. In a busy city like DC, where residents and worker bees can fall into a routine of sameness and normalcy, Carpe Librum offers customers quirkiness, charm, and something different. You could walk into the store one day and hear Barbra Streisand playing in the background and the next day it will be Beyoncé. Customers can also explore the Sundry section, which is an assortment of random knick knacks found in our donation boxes. For 25 cents you can buy an eraser shaped like a monkey, a pocket bible, or cloth handkerchief, embroidered with someone else’s initials.
I also see that people are drawn to Carpe Librum for its relaxed atmosphere. As a used bookstore, it’s impossible to use an online catalogue system to keep track of inventory, so we resort to looking up material the old fashioned way- browsing the shelves. According to dictionary.com, to browse means to “look through or glance at casually or randomly; to access and view, usually without looking for something specific.” This is exactly what the Carpe Librum bookstore invites customers to do- relax your mind and enjoy the journey of stumbling across the exact book you didn’t realize you were looking for.
In an environment like DC, where the people are goal oriented, efficient, and scheduled, it’s nice to lose track of time wandering about a bookstore, fully present in the moment, instead of worrying about the next action item on your to-do list.
So if you haven’t already, we invite you to take a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and enter the sanctuary of Carpe Librum bookstore. It’s a place where you never know what you’re going to find, but when you see it, it will be exactly what you’ve been looking for.