Few topics have garnered the attention that the Valley's search for a solution to the library crisis has. Jeff Napier, who recently moved back to Ashland, thinks he has an idea that can get free books back into the hands of the people, without imposing any additional taxes.




"It's like a library," he said of the Ashland Media Exchange, his new business at 3175 E. Main St. "But there are no cards. There is no membership, and no concept of overdue books. You can take a book and keep it forever."




Napier is a book dealer. He recently sold a used book store he owned in Marin County, Calif. when he realized he was making more money selling rare and hard-to-find books on the Internet.




At the same time, he and his wife were contemplating moving back to Ashland. He said they were following the county library saga through the online edition of the Daily Tidings when he got his idea.




"We were down in Marin County looking for a reason to come back up here," he said. We said to ourselves, 'Well, the libraries are out of business, and we sure do know a lot about books..."




He and his wife sold about 300 books a week on Amazon.com while in Marin County. In doing so, they stockpiled a lot of books that didn't sell.




This surplus, and other books they collected since arriving in Ashland, have become the basis for the Ashland Media Exchange.




The idea, he says, is to collect used books from the usual sources: garage sales, second-hand stores and donations. The valuable books, such as an autographed copy of Jerry Falwell's book "Strength For the Journey" which he recently discovered, will be sold on the Internet. The more common books will be put on the shelves of the Ashland Media Exchange.




"Many books about specialized topics, such as underwater welding or how to build a xylophone, are not of interest to the general public," he said. "They'd sit on our shelves forever. But people who actually want such obscure titles will look for them online, where they can be worth a great deal."




Napier said a similar copy of the autographed Falwell book was selling for $51 on Amazon.com.




"So we sell one percent online," he continued, "and put 99 percent in the front room, where you can take it home for free and forever."




The Ashland Media Exchange is small &

it's crammed into a 1,000-square-foot rented space at the very southern terminus of East Main Street, where it meets Highway 66 &

but it already has plenty of books, movies and music CDs. The business sports a classics shelf, a fiction shelf, a history shelf and a religion/ philosophy shelf, among others. There are also shelves containing music CDs, DVDs and VHS cassettes. They aren't exactly new releases or Top 40 favorites, but they are, on the other hand, free.




"You don't have to bring in three books to get three books," he said. "We're not keeping track. You just take what you want."




Napier's overhead costs, including rent and utilities, come to about $1,500 a month. But if he gets the amount of donations he is hoping to get, he thinks he can not only pay himself a small salary, but also "make enough money to grow."




He hopes to expand, at first, into a 3,000-square-foot facility, with the help of volunteers. His ultimate hope is to move into the now-shuttered county library in downtown Ashland.




"That would be the ideal location," he said. "Although the parking is pretty bad there."




At one time while in Marin County, he had more than 20,000 books online. If he can get up to those numbers again, he thinks that would be "enough income for employees and for it to be the kind of business we want it to be."




Napier said he hoped the library levy would pass, despite his business interests.




Although Napier is a public library supporter, he said for his idea to work, "it has to be a private enterprise."




He added, "Because it's going to be a profit-bearing entity, it's never going to need tax dollars of any kind. If someone invited me to take over the library as a tax-free model, I think I could do it."




Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .