Where should I donate books?
January 2, 2005 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Where should I donate books? [+]

I'd like to reduce my clutter, but I'd rather not trash books. I asked my local library about donating books, and they replied with a litany of rules about what they accept, what they don't accept, and instructions for sorting, packaging and delivering my books. Screw that.

I live near two prisons. I've also considered orphanages (for appropriate fiction), shelters, and Catholic schools. I know MeFi is littered with librarians, and I thought y'all might have some worthwhile suggestions.
posted by cribcage to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Prisons would be a great idea, but I bet that they would have just as many rules as the library does about donating.

Along with shelters, you may think about nursing homes. Also, if you're willing to sort out your more basic books, donations to literacy programs would probably be greatly appreciated.
posted by thewittyname at 1:36 PM on January 2, 2005

Is the library list really that long and onerous, or were you just expecting more of a response along the lines of "oh, thanks for thinking of us!" rather than "here are the rules...."? I'll be the first to state that some people who work in libraries -- they'e not all librarians -- can lack something in the people skills department, but they're still a good option for dropping off books you have for a few reasons

- it's like giving money to the library
- it's passing on your good reading tastes to the community
- your books are the least likely to get tossed out

That said, I've worked with prisons and their libraries. If you wanna see a long list of rules, try them. Often they don't accept hardcover books at all, and sometimes they have fairly specific subject requirements. Best bet is to either check this list of prison libraries/librarians or contact your local prison [especially if they have an educational facility attached] and see what you can work out. Another prison option is a local Book to Prisoners program [local link for you] which is basically a pretty low-cost operation that just mails books to prisoners, that's pretty much it. They also have wish lists and no-no lists, so you may have to get used to that as part of the deal.

Since you're in the Boston area, you might want to try other local-ish libraries like the Somerville and Cambridge systems if BPL wasn't giving you a useful response. Alternately, the Boston Public Friends of the Library group has a sale and, since they're the ones who ultimately [I think] get the books from BPL, they might be a little more easy going about how you get your books to them. As someone who regularly deals with huge boxes of phonebooks and useless crates of romances abandoned on our doorstep, I can sympathize with the library's predicament, but, hey it's partly up to them if they scare you away or not. You might want to try shopping around for another library in the system that has a more welcoming attitude, but you also might need to deal with the fact that there will be some sorts of rules wherever you go.
posted by jessamyn at 1:43 PM on January 2, 2005

I take mine to the local literacy foundation first and they take what they want. After that, the books go to the VA hospital since it's on the way home. Both groups have limited rules and seem to be appreciative. There's nothing wrong with Goodwill either if all else fails.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies at 1:50 PM on January 2, 2005

Place some in the BookCrossing system.
posted by Gyan at 1:58 PM on January 2, 2005

Jessamyn, it wouldn't surprise me if the list of criteria really was a total pain. I live in Cambridge, and heard a librarian tell a patron last week that they wouldn't even accept donations of books. I was completely blown away...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:23 PM on January 2, 2005

In Albuquerque, when I would sell books back to a bookstore, the company would take books that they couldn't buy and that I didn't want and donate them to a domestic violence shelter.
posted by sugarfish at 2:35 PM on January 2, 2005

Maybe I'm being too mercenary here, but why not just sell them back to a used book store? Usually you get credit at the store, which you can use to buy more books!

This process is one of the greatest inventions in history!

And, as sugarfish points out, a lot of used bookstores have some process to redistribute the books they won't accept, either to a library or a charity. So, you get money for more books! and you don't have to do any of the work involved in donating them yourself. S'what I do, lazy ass that I am.
posted by Hildago at 2:50 PM on January 2, 2005

Cambridge ABSOLUTELY doesn't want books right now--the main library is being renovated and they're having trouble finding places to store the books they have. To be honest, I don't think Somerville wants books, either.

Maybe you could put them in a box and send them to the city of Salinas, California--books are going to be at a premium there for the foreseeable future.

Seriously, try Hands Across the Water, which is in Stoneham. Books for Soldiers always tempts me as a book-donation option, but I've never actually sent any books there. The Reach Out and Read literacy program’s national center accepts shipments at 29 Mystic Ave., Somerville, MA 02145. Small amounts of books may be dropped off there as well.

The Cambridge recycling center has a book-recycling thingie, which is one of the places Mr. Sidhedevil and I take our books.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:52 PM on January 2, 2005

Goodwill. You get rid of them, they sell them to help their programs, others get to buy them cheaply. Everyone's happy. The one in Davis Square is the best.Goodwill.ever.

Hospitals or hospices may also be interested.

Also, remember, chicks dig dudes with lots of books.
posted by TimeFactor at 2:56 PM on January 2, 2005

If you end up selling them to a used books store, skip Half Price Books. Their recycling program involves a big dumpster out back, I happen to know.

Let us know what you end up doing with them. I have a lot of books to give away too.
posted by bonheur at 2:58 PM on January 2, 2005

I thought the Davis Square Goodwill had stopped taking books! I drop something off there (clothes, toasters, stupid omelet pans that people give me) once a month on average, but someone there told me they weren't doing books anymore.

TimeFactor reminds me that nursing homes need books, also, although they're more interested in books about Hitler and Agatha Christie novels than most of the stuff Mr. S. and I read. Nursing homes also take magazines--National Geographic, Reader's Digest, and The New Yorker are favorites.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:04 PM on January 2, 2005

American Library Association has some pointers (but previous posters here do a very good job of describing issues related to local library donations).

The World Library Partnership has a page titled Think Twice Before You Donate Books with some reflections on sending books overseas.
posted by gimonca at 3:17 PM on January 2, 2005

I live in Cambridge, and heard a librarian tell a patron last week that they wouldn't even accept donations of books. I was completely blown away...

Nothing mind-blowing about it. To them, your donation isn't "Here, have some stuff free." It's "Here, spend some money sorting these for usability, and then spend some more money sorting them for condition, and then spend some more money cataloging and classifying them, and then spend ongoing money storing them and having them take up space that could be occupied by other books, and by the way you probably have no use for 95%+ of them, since for damn sure I don't have a use for them anymore."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:12 PM on January 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

They have been more open to accepting donations of books in the past in Cambridge, and may be open to it again, but right now every additional book in the system is an additional headache for them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:35 PM on January 2, 2005

To me.

Most libraries I have experience with dump most donated books right to the 50-cent sale, which is probably not what you intended.
posted by rushmc at 6:30 PM on January 2, 2005

Organize a book sale and send the proceed to one of the many reliable agencies providing disaster relief in south Asia.
posted by theora55 at 7:45 PM on January 2, 2005

To defend those libraries with rules about book donations, I've dealt with boxes of wet, mouldy books, rat and mouse chewed books (complete with droppings), boxes of books used as a litter box, boxes of 30 year old encyclopedias (usually missing a volume or two), boxes of 20 year old Better Homes and Gardens (with the recipes ripped out), etc. All this has to be carted to the dumpster. And it is about 30% of what people bring in.

What is left generally goes to a booksale, run by the Friends of the Library. These are often older folks who can't lift books, which means staff end up moving all the stuff, generally while not being paid.

Don't get me wrong - that money is extremely useful. It is, in the long run, worth the hassle, usually. A local library with an extremely active Friends group and a permanant booksale raised approximately US$80,000 for that library last year, which paid for all of their adult and childrens programming and more.

But, some libraries just don't have the staff, the storage space and/or the volunteers to make it work.

You could try a battered women's shelter. Prisons are inherently less friendly than public libraries. Nursing homes or the VA might take them.
posted by QIbHom at 7:54 PM on January 2, 2005


You can also try donating them to Boomerang's in Boston or JP (both are AIDS Action Committee Thrift stores). They pretty much accept and sell anything. If you really want to doante them to a library, donate them to the Malden Public Library. I've seen them happily take bags and boxes of books on more than one occasion. They are the only library I've been in in the Boston region who readily accept books for the Friends of the Library sales. And if you can check out the books sales at the MPL. The last one was freakin amazing.
posted by rodz at 8:03 PM on January 2, 2005

What QIbHom said. In spades. Plus 40-year-old sets of National Geographic and 20-year-old sets of encyclopedias. I am as nice as possible to potential donors but have very little time to sort through tons of used books in sketchy condition. Sigh.
posted by Lynsey at 8:24 PM on January 2, 2005

Response by poster: I'm sure every library can defend its rules. I'm sure they have plenty of horrid anecdotes about wet books and old Playboys. I just don't care. I've already taped a half-dozen boxes. If the librarians would rather refuse the donation than separate the chaff themselves, I'll take my charity elsewhere.

My donation includes many university press books. They're interesting, but they're books that will be pulled from the shelf maybe once every few years. My local library participates in a regional network, which seems an ideal home for books of this nature.

I've considered simply leaving the books on a library doorstep early one morning. If librarians have to cull 30% of donations...well, maybe that's the cost of doing business. The library gets free books. I'm not sympathetic. As job hazards go, carrying old encyclopedias to the dumpster doesn't impress me. Some guys have to mine coal.

Jessamyn: What distinguishes a librarian from a library employee?
posted by cribcage at 11:07 PM on January 2, 2005

What distinguishes a librarian from a library employee?

Quick answer: usually but not always librarians have masters degrees in library science and do more of the professional work in any large library. Professional work in this case means working at the reference desk, doing the programming [speakers coming, doing bibliographic instruction, other classes] ordering books and other materials, planning library services in general, etc. Library employees [often called paraprofessionals] do more administrative work like circulation desk work, and shelving. This is a broad generalization. There are often other employees in libraries that are more obviously not librarians such as bookkeepers, janitors and so on. Often libraries have a large volunteer staff as well. Ours do book repair, some level of cataloging and some of our weeding. This is a loose loose outline. Many smaller libraries don't have any staff with professional degrees and often older staff with seniority may be reference librarians because of the time they've been on the job, not necessarily because of their schooling. Big libraries such as the Library of Congress also sometimes have directors who don't have library degrees but have business or fundraising experience.

If librarians have to cull 30% of donations...well, maybe that's the cost of doing business....As job hazards go, carrying old encyclopedias to the dumpster doesn't impress me. Some guys have to mine coal.

The cost of doing business is, of course, being paid with your taxes, and my Mom's taxes, and everyone else on the MLN. Back on topic: I'll be in Boston on the 14th, you can give the books to me if you want. Carrying encyclopedias may not seem like a lot of work to a 20-something year old but for a 60 year old unpaid Friend of the Library [in Winter yet] it isn't something I'd willingly send someone to do if I could avoid it. Otherwise I'd go with Books to Prisoners if I were you if the books are already packed and ready to go.
posted by jessamyn at 8:36 AM on January 3, 2005

On preview: jessamyn said what I was saying, and much less snarkily too.

The main thrust of my comment was to tell cribcage to not be a total jerk. Don't leave the books on the doorstep. Would you insist on sending inappropriate supplies to a disaster area, when told not to? So why would you insist the library has to take your books, even though they told you they don't want them/can't use them/etc.? C'mon.
posted by livii at 8:48 AM on January 3, 2005

I give mine to the Friends of the Library, Amvets, or Goodwill.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:01 AM on January 3, 2005

If librarians have to cull 30% of donations...well, maybe that's the cost of doing business. The library gets free books. I'm not sympathetic. As job hazards go, carrying old encyclopedias to the dumpster doesn't impress me. Some guys have to mine coal.

That seems a perfectly reasonable attitute to me.

Would you insist on sending inappropriate supplies to a disaster area

Yes, because books are oh so inappropriate for, um, libraries...
posted by rushmc at 9:44 AM on January 3, 2005

*IF* I have to cull books, I give them to family or friends first, shelters second, libraries last.
posted by kamylyon at 9:58 AM on January 3, 2005

Look, if you're going to dump books that you don't care about, dump them at Goodwill, not a library. Goodwill's associated costs are much lower -- plop the books on a shelf, universal pricing for hardcovers versus paperbacks -- and they'll take a much broader array of material than most libraries, which means less will get dumped a priori.

Consider this: most food banks ask for donations of canned and boxed food from the public, highlghting certain things, such as peanut butter and powedered milk, that are least perishable and most nutritious. The fresh fruits and veg they get from commercial donors. Would you dump a ragtag collection of groceries from your fridge and pantry, including the not-quite-gone lettuce and the ancient can of canned artichokes, on a food bank's door and expect them to sort it out as part of the cost of doing business? It's food, and food is appropriate for, um, food banks, isn't it?
posted by maudlin at 10:55 AM on January 3, 2005

I gave mine to the Baltimore prison when I moved, and they were delighted to have them, didn't ask any questions, had no rules, and it was just a matter of dropping them off. I was a little worried about all my paperback whodunits giving hardened felons evil ideas, but I decided that most of the inmates were unlikely to end up snowed in at an English country manor with access to rare South American poisons, so it probably worked out okay. However, since MA prisons seem to be pickier than MD, I highly second the Goodwill option: it's where I buy most of my books, after all.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:53 AM on January 3, 2005

I second the BookCrossing idea - I've done this before and always had books picked up.
posted by darsh at 1:00 PM on January 3, 2005

CRIBCAGE! If you want to drop off a bunch of books somewhere, take them to one of the Hands Across the Waters collection centers, NOT a library.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:16 PM on January 3, 2005

Look, if you're going to dump books that you don't care about, dump them at Goodwill, not a library.

Goodwill tends to sell them in box lots at auction to used bookstores and people who sell on Amazon and eBay for a living. Not exactly what someone who simply wants to make their books available for others to read free of charge may be looking for.

Sidhedevil's link looks good.
posted by rushmc at 3:11 PM on January 3, 2005

Well, if not Goodwill, then certainly a charity that will put them to good use. But the library shouldn't be a dumping ground. Odds are none of the books get used for free by anyone if the library staff is sufficiently exasperated.
posted by maudlin at 3:56 PM on January 3, 2005

Response by poster:
Would you insist on sending inappropriate supplies to a disaster area, when told not to?
Yeah, that's roughly equivalent: a public library and a disaster cleanup. Nice analogy for invoking MetaFilter's trademark melodrama.

Thanks to everyone else for suggestions -- especially Gyan's link to BookCrossing. I'd never seen that, but I'll definitely use it.
posted by cribcage at 8:36 PM on January 3, 2005

Well, it was the first analogy that popped to mind, so sue me. Your attitude was so hard-headed I wasn't sure anything else would get through to you but some sort of example of how shitty it is to push unwanted charity on others. At that point, it's no longer charity. (Thanks to maudlin for explaining it better than me).

I'm glad you'll be going another route. (Though try not to swamp your area with too many at a time, because then it sort of feels like littering.)
posted by livii at 5:49 AM on January 4, 2005

You have a strange view of books, livii.
posted by rushmc at 8:52 AM on January 4, 2005

I have no idea what you mean by that. Since it seems really irrelevant to the topic at hand, I'm going to quit this thread to save it from going off the rails.
posted by livii at 3:33 PM on January 4, 2005

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