What should I do with my old books
October 22, 2008 7:54 AM   Subscribe

What is the best thing to do with a box or two of old books? They're mostly paperback and mostly genre fiction (SciFi, Horror, Fantasy). The less work for me the better with the provision that I'd like the books to be read again if possible.

I had thought about donating them, but this question about old text books suggested that it was a hassle for whoever got the donation.

Is that just true of outdated text books, or is that true of fiction books as well? Is it really better to just toss them or is there somebody out there who might want them (with a relatively easy way to get them to that somebody)?
posted by willnot to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Don't toss them! There's got to be a used book store somewhere in LA that will sort through them for you. My mom does this every few years - boxes up her library and drops it off at Cal's Books or whatever. Seriously, two boxes of paperback Sci-Fi really isn't that much of a hassle to deal with. Someplace like this one in Torrance will undoubtedly take them.
posted by muddgirl at 8:03 AM on October 22, 2008

I strongly and heartily endorse Paperbackswap. My new roommate turned me on to this when my OLD roommate left behind a huge number of books -- what you do is, you post the books on their site that you want to get rid of, and if someone wants one, they email you. You send it to them (you unfortunately do have to pay for shipping, but it's usually only a couple bucks becuase they let you use media rate). For every book you ship out, you get a point -- and you can then take that point and look at OTHER people's lists of books, and use those points to get them to send YOU books.

I've gotten rid of a ton of books this way, and I've gotten $100 worth of books free.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:04 AM on October 22, 2008

Old text books are nothing like old fiction. Namely, someone will want to read the latter. See if you can sell them to a used bookstore. The rest can go to Goodwill or some such place.
posted by orange swan at 8:05 AM on October 22, 2008

Take them to someplace like Goodwill or a used book store. Or, post "two free boxes of book on the curb" on Craigslist. I buy random used scifi/horror/fantasy books at least once a month. Old textbooks are difficult to donate, but old fiction is great!
posted by shrabster at 8:05 AM on October 22, 2008

Do you know a grade school kid whose school is doing a book drive? (do they even DO book drives anymore?) If you answered yes to both questions... or at least the first one, then I'm pretty sure that kid would love to bring all those books into school. I seem to remember that the prize for bringing in the most books was something exciting like a pizza party..
posted by Planet F at 8:06 AM on October 22, 2008

Best answer: My library will sell them at their used book sales. At the library's request, I'll store them until the day before the sale. The day before the sale, they will set up tables with the genre noted, when I bring the books in, I put them on the appropriate table.

This keeps the library from having to store them and the labor to sort.
posted by JujuB at 8:07 AM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Or, you could sell them on Amazon -- you don't have to have an official "storefront" or "account" to do this. You do have to give Amazon your checking account info, which is hinky for some people, but I've been doing this for years and haven't had a problem.

If you're a basic guy who wants to sell, all you do is: give them your checking account info once. Then -- list the books you want to sell. Amazon lets you set the price, lets you describe the condition, and then lists your copy along with the "used" copies you've got. If someone orders your book, Amazon bills them your price AND a certain amount of money to cover shipping, takes a small cut, and then deposits the balance directly into your checking account. Then they let you know your book was ordered. You do have to ship it to them within two days of the order, but Amazon does reimburse you for the shipping.

Unless you have a storefront (which does take a monthly fee), your listings expire in 60 days. But it can be a good way to get rid of better-quality and popular books, or of textbooks (especially college textbooks).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Mitheral at 8:15 AM on October 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

Seconding PaperbackSwap (thanks Jessamyn!) with one important caveat - it is a bit of work. You have to print a wrapper, package, and mail each book, usually separately, and at your own cost. That's OK if you are interesting in getting books, because you get a credit for each one and you receive it for free.

Since you're interested in ease, though, I'd recommend Freecyle. With Freecycle it's pretty much guaranteed to go to someone who will really want it. Also, you can dictate the terms of the acceptance "Must be picked up between 7 and 9 Thursday night, must take all boxes, etc."
posted by Miko at 8:21 AM on October 22, 2008

I'll second Freecycle. Zero work for you (someone will pick them up), and they would only be taken by someone who really wants them.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:23 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I sell as much as I can, but the truth is, unless I'm going to make at least $3 on a book the sale isn't worth my time - packing, shipping, post office, etc. This is me personally. I go through Amazon and Half, see what the going rate is, and if it's not at least, say, $2.50, I know it's not worth the time. YMMV.

I don't know where you live, but in my neighborhood, if you leave a box of books next to the garbage cans, someone is going to take them. I don't know if they sell them on the street or to a used bookstore or set up one of those tables on the street on Sundays. I don't know if they take them for their own personal library. In the end it's a donation, I'm not putting them in the landfill, and it's being reused somehow.
posted by micawber at 8:24 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

The simplest, quickest way to be rid of them in order of ease for you:

- set them an alley (if you have access to an alley)

- Drop them off at Goodwill or the Salvation Army (but prefer Goodwill as the SA is an exclusionary organization.)

Unless: you know any 12-year-old boys. 12-year-old boys love free Sci-Fi.
posted by wfrgms at 8:24 AM on October 22, 2008

posted by cass at 8:25 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second Paperbackswap!

You enter your books into their system using their ISBN numbers. You can make a wish list of books that you want so that when those books are entered into the system, you will have the option of having them sent to you.

I print out the postage on my computer and throw the books in my mailbox for the carrier to pick up. It doesn't even require a trip to the post office.

For the first time in a long time, I have a backlog of books to read! Plus, if I pick up books at the flea market or the salvation army, I put them on PBS when I'm done with them. Sometimes you can get a brand new book in exchange for a 25 cent paperback.

Plus I'm constantly surprised by WHICH books of mine people want. That copy of the Secret I found on a park bench? Snapped up in a heartbeat. Kosinksi's The Painted Bird, not so much.
posted by Seppaku at 8:26 AM on October 22, 2008

Why not drop them off at your local library? They can usually weed out the ones they want and sell the ones they don't.
posted by carmelita at 8:42 AM on October 22, 2008

There are lots of good ideas here. For even more, you can see my list of 10 ways to find new homes for your books - actually 12 ways, because I added two more on after the original post.
posted by jeri at 8:43 AM on October 22, 2008

Seconding donating them to your local library, if they have a book sale.
posted by fixedgear at 8:44 AM on October 22, 2008

The local supermarket has a table where you can drop off (or buy for a buck) used books and the money goes to UNICEF or something.
posted by Gungho at 8:58 AM on October 22, 2008

Warning: Your local Freecycle network is going to have rules about what you can post. My local network does not allow you to post your address, so you have to email back and forth with interested parties, making it a bit more work than you'd think.

Paperbackswap is great if you want to get books back through their network. I'm actually mailing out a book through them today, and I use it to get cookbooks. But it's not right for you if you're just looking to dump a load of books.

You could also try checking with your local schools and libraries to see if they are interested.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:04 AM on October 22, 2008

I haven't seen it mentioned yet, so I'll just add that there are several programs in place for donating books to prisons. Most prisons are happy to accept books.
posted by trip and a half at 9:16 AM on October 22, 2008

Freecycle. You won't have any problems. Just post whatcha got and where they can be got.
posted by watercarrier at 9:22 AM on October 22, 2008

Just put them on the curb with a sign - Free Books. It's very heartening to find someone giving something away in this day and age with no strings attached.
posted by watercarrier at 9:24 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Support your local library - they might cherry pick and take the good ones, but they'll sell what they don't need.
posted by rocks009 at 9:33 AM on October 22, 2008

It bears mentioning that most libraries are turning away books and tossing the surplus out in dumpsters. There is definitely no shortage of books nowadays - it's a huge misconception that was maybe true 20 years ago - but is definitely not the case these days - unless you're way, way, way out in the boonies somewhere, where donations are a rare occurrence.
posted by watercarrier at 9:45 AM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

watercarrier's position doesn't jibe with my experience. Most, if not all, libraries withdraw books when their condition is too poor to be circulated. But most any public library that holds book sales (and that seems to be most of them) will take anything salable. Not every public library, but most. And for my public library, at least, book sales make up a significant portion of our revenue. If you call your local library, they'd be happy to tell you whether they take donations.
posted by box at 10:10 AM on October 22, 2008

If you have time to deal with individual requests, and you want books in return, Bookmooch. Otherwise, your local library or Goodwill.
posted by yath at 10:41 AM on October 22, 2008

Donate them to your local library. Most libraries sell donated books as an annual event. The proceeds of the sale support the library.
posted by paulg at 11:40 AM on October 22, 2008

How about if you leave them in waiting rooms wherever you go? Doctor's office... I bet somebody would prefer starting a SciFi over a 3 year old copy of some crappy magazine. Don't leave a pile, just one in each place.

Alternatively, members of my mother's community pool choose from old paperbacks left in a central location by other members. Maybe there's something similar in your area.

Whatever you do, don't throw them out! Somebody out there wants to read them.
posted by Breav at 1:17 PM on October 22, 2008

Can't believe no one has mentioned www.bookcrossing.com so I will. Register them yourself (free to join, no spam, just write in the numbers it generates) or find your local bookcrossers and ask them if they'd like them. Give them away but see where they go!
posted by LyzzyBee at 2:20 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ahh, LyzzyBee beat me to it. You should absolutely use BookCrossing to set your books free!
posted by limeonaire at 2:57 PM on October 22, 2008

My local Goodwill won't take books, but Out of the Closet will.
posted by OolooKitty at 4:04 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

ChanceXchange. Even lets you get new nifty books in trade.
posted by deezil at 4:48 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Probably the best thing to do is donate them to a local library. I've done it many, many times and have never encountered any hassle. There was one time I was given some form about requesting a receipt for tax deductions (for me), but I just threw that away. Many libraries have areas where they offer free books or sell books all year. Others might have a separate used book store affiliated with the library. Many also have annual book sales and might be interested in saving up stock for such an event. Call around to all local libraries you'd be willing to drive to and detail the approximate amount and genres to see if they'd be interested.

Besides libraries, there are probably thousands of book sales in the U.S. every year. Your local paper might list flea markets, book sales, and other such events every week. It might be worth checking if there are any churches or schools that are having a sale and looking for donations. I've also found good book sales through Book Sale Finder. Just click on your state/region/province, and see if there's any upcoming events.

Are there any used book stores in your area? Goodwill/Salvation Army is another option. I would definitely call any and all of the libraries, stores, etc. before fruitlessly lugging your books to some place that may not want them. Make sure that they're accepting donations at this time, and that trade paperbacks are acceptable. Do you think any of your books might be appropriate for junior high or high school kids? Donating them to schools is another option.

Those would be the easiest options. I've been a member of BookMooch for a few years, and I've been exceedingly pleased with my experience. However, that would require you to post each title individually and respond to any requests. You'd also have to pay to ship books to other members. This would really only be worth your while if you were looking to add an equal number of different books to your library.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:27 PM on October 22, 2008

Seriously, two boxes of paperback Sci-Fi really isn't that much of a hassle to deal with.

I help manage a used bookstore, and boxes of paperback science fiction are one of our favorite things to see walk in the door (assuming they're in relatively decent shape). It takes us a minute or two to go through them and make an offer of cash or store credit. Some authors (King, Koontz, e.g.) are so common we almost always have more than enough, but others (Lovecraft, Pratchett, Gaiman, Charlaine Harris) are definitely ones we buy whenever we see them. If turning them into a bit of cash sounds good, run them by a local used bookstore first, then donate the leftovers however you like.
posted by mediareport at 8:16 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

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