The Library (Usually) Doesn't Want Your Used Books
You'd think the
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.
"Almost all libraries have a well-defined policy on
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."
"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."
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.
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."
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.
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.