Milwaukee County has an intriguing free book delivery service that both avid and casual readers can appreciate. It’s called Helium Books, and here’s how it works: Go to heliumbooks.com, select the book you want to read, and wait no more than 48 hours for a Helium Books driver to drop off your book at your door.
The service is a 21st century spin on an age-old activity: going to the library. Founders Ian Buchanan and Jacob Carlson are big readers but, sometimes, when they would search for a specific book from their local library, it was only available at the library across town and too far of a car drive for it to be worth it. There must be a solution to this, they thought. And thus, Helium Books was born.
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After you enter your order on the Helium Books website, a Helium Books driver will locate a library with that book available and will then deliver it to you. Of course, like any library book, there is a return date but Helium allows you to renew your book for over two months.
And the nice thing is, the service is free. Yes, free, as in no money has to be spent on the actual book or shipping costs or service fees.
Buchanan and Carlson have first-hand experienced the benefits of reading – expanding your mind, mental health benefits, continued education – and want to increase access to those positive experiences. Helium Books aims to “elevate lives through the power of reading,” says Buchanan.
In the midst of a pandemic, Helium Books’ set up is perfect for adapting. The service follows library guidelines, including a 72-hour book quarantine after each book is returned, wiping down every book cover, drivers wearing masks and gloves, and contactless drop-off and pick up.
Buchanan said that Helium has seen a large uptick in orders for books about systemic racism in America and the world and books by Black and POC authors in response to the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests across the world. Buchanan explained that Helium has been using its social media platform to encourage customers to order these books and that he and Carlson have been dedicating time to reading and learning themselves as two white men.
If you aren’t sure where to start, Helium recommends these three books are a great jumping point: How To Be Less Stupid About Race by Crystal M Fleming, An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz, White by Law by Ian Haney-López.
Helium is hoping to expand in the future to other cities and organizations after developing a solid base in Milwaukee. Buchanan encourages everyone to “give them [Helium Books] a look” despite its youth. “Do you like to read and live in Milwaukee County? Then this service is perfect for you!”