Please Try again!
The Library (Usually) Doesn't Want Your Used Books
books

The Library (Usually) Doesn't Want Your Used Books

Nick Douglas, Gawker Media

Photo via Pixabay

You'd think the library would want your used books! But outside of the occasional used-book sale, libraries usually only get their books from specific vendors. By dumping your used books on them, you're actually creating work for volunteers and making things worse.

We talked to librarian Stephanie Anderson, Assistant Director of Selection at BookOps (the shared technical services collaboration of New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library). She explained what's so bad about dumping your books on the library, and why they don't want them.

Ask First

"Almost all libraries have a well-defined policy on donations," says Anderson. So look it up before you cart your books over. "It is likely to be on their website, and if not, you can ask at any desk in a library, or call them." Ask them who does want your used books, and they'll usually have an answer ready.

Advertisement

And if the library does want your books, you're don't have to read this post! Congratulations!

Most Libraries Can't Use Your Books

Anderson knows that would-be donors have good intentions. But, she says, "when you insist on donating books to a library that doesn't accept them, or insist on donating books that a library can't use, it's disrespectful of the institution you're trying to support."

Advertisement

"You would not believe how many people get angry and argue with librarians when they learn about our donation policies," says Anderson. Picture that embarrassing kind of person, throwing a fit because they didn't do their research. Never be that person!

Why They Don't Want Your Books

In short, books aren't all the same, and the ones you're getting rid of aren't the ones the library needs, says Anderson. Not even the new ones:

In a best case scenario, we can do one of two things with a donated book: add it to the collection, or put it in a book sale. Many novice book donors expect us to do the former, but we almost never do, because it is highly unlikely that we need the book donated at the time it is donated. In order to spend book budgets wisely, we do a lot of planning, and that planning can't depend on book donations.

Instead, libraries buy from vendors. It's the only way to reliably match supply to demand, and to get fresh books that definitely don't have bedbugs or other hidden defects. And buying the physical book isn't the only part that costs money.

Even If They Use Your Book, It's Not Free

When the library adds a new book to their collection, they don't just unbox it and slide it onto the shelf. They have to add a barcode, spine label, and laminate it or add a clear Mylar cover so it lasts longer. They have to assign that barcode and add the book to the catalog. "These all cost the library money, as does the time of the staff member who processes the book," says Anderson. "Libraries never have enough staff time."

Advertisement

The library also needs space to shelve each new book. Because they're already doing their job buying all the books they need, your unneeded book is just using up space until the staff spends more time recycling it.

When You Can Donate Books

Of course, this doesn't apply to book sales, which the library uses to raise funds and to dispose of its own extra books. (They won't always need 23 copies of last year's John Grisham.) Still, check the donation policy , which will probably disallow textbooks, magazines, and other materials that no one will buy. If you "donate" those, again, you're creating work for the library.

Advertisement

As mentioned, there are other exceptions, which you learned when you googled your library's donation policy! The Brooklyn Public Library, for example, is running a pilot program at its central location, accepting new and gently-used books .

What to Donate Instead

You can still help! Most libraries will happily take your (tax-deductible) monetary donations. "Many of us depend on these donations to keep our collections in good shape," says Anderson, "and every dollar helps."

Advertisement

You can also volunteer, which will help you learn how libraries work, and appreciate the many things they do behind the scenes (and the many services they provide outside of books). Remember, most libraries are understaffed, and you'll free up highly educated librarians for more technical work, so they'll appreciate the help.

Here's What to Do With All Those Books

Well, the library probably told you where else to donate them. You could make money (or store credit) by selling them to a used bookstore. Or, and this will shock you, you're allowed to throw them out . "It's part of the book circle of life!" says Anderson.

Advertisement

It might feel weird! Books are magic. But they're also produced in mass quantities, and now they're all digitized as well. If your book is at all rare, it's selling for lots of money on Amazon and AbeBooks , and that's where you should take it. Otherwise don't worry, there are plenty of copies somewhere for anyone who wants to read them. If your library doesn't have this book, suggest that they buy a copy. They'd rather have a new one from a vendor, honestly.

Anderson points out that almost everywhere in the country, books are recyclable. So your old books will get a second life, as an Amazon box for your new books.

Contribute to LifeHacker

Write for Us

more from this author

Subscribe for latest stories