Michele Gentile is the owner and manager of a bookstore/café in the small southern Italian town of Polla near Salerno. For many years, Gentile has been quietly using a community-minded system called libri sospeso or suspended books in his Ex Libris Bookshop. The process encourages customers to buy two books and leave one for a bookshop visitor who can’t afford a purchase. The concept is based on a practice that began during World War II when Italians would pay for two coffees instead of one and cover the cost for the next customer.
Gentile recently garnered media attention by adding a new program to his shop. Now he provides free books to local children who bring in discarded bottle and cans. Along with this program, he also has organized neighborhood kids to collect bottles, plastic and metal for recycling, and then he uses the cash to buy books for local elementary schools.