What does the library do with donated books?
September 23, 2010 8:21 AM   Subscribe

I like to donate my spare books to the library. They always take them. Am I helping them?

I'm pretty ruthless about getting rid of books I don't think I'll read again. I buy a few dozen books a year but I tend to go through my shelves every few months and try to take a knapsackful to the library.

The library always takes them cheerfully.

But I wonder what they do with them? They probably don't put all of them into circulation. Do they sell them? Do they pass them on to the Salvation Army?

(The library I go to is the Bibliotheque Nationale in Montreal, but I'm asking in general for all the times I've brought boughts into public libraries in New York and California too.)
posted by musofire to Education (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Most public libraries I know are happy to sell donated books they can't put into circulation. You're still doing a Good Thing.
posted by availablelight at 8:23 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

My public library has a little book store in some branches and hosts a giant book sale once a year. You are doing a good thing. My library takes old magazines too.
posted by Duffington at 8:26 AM on September 23, 2010

I take all of my books to my hometown library, where they'll be put out for sale once a month at a rate of 50 cents a paperback, $1 per hardcover. My father will then buy about a third of the bad sci-fi I just got rid of, keeping the great chain alive.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:26 AM on September 23, 2010 [10 favorites]

Libraries which could not use your books or efficiently re-sell them would quite clearly and cheerfully tell you that they couldn't take your books. Really. So keep on giving books to any library that will take them.
posted by maudlin at 8:28 AM on September 23, 2010

My local library has a Friends-of-the-Library-sponsored used bookshop in each branch, and I donate mine there. In fact, I buy more there than I check out from the library itself. Just yesterday I bought Ron Rosenbbaum's "The Shakespeare Wars," Stephen Hunter's collection of movie reviews and essays, novels by Paul Auster and Stewart O'Nan and Michael Connelly all for less than five bucks. I've got 15 others, all duly read, stacked by the door to donate next time I go. They seem very glad to get them. I'm curious exactly what they use the dough for and may even volunteer with the Friends someday soon and find out. I prefer this whole lively humane process to the Kindle's ilk, although the novelty of the thing intrigues me.

TMI? Sorry, got carried away.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:37 AM on September 23, 2010

Yeah, if they're taking them, they're using them. More likely for selling than circulation if my childhood donations are any indication. AFAIK, they wouldn't bother taking them if they were just going to pass them on to Salvation Army; they'd tell you to do it yourself. My friends recently tried to donate a large amount (100+) of barely-used books to the Brooklyn library and were turned down wholesale and told to find a charity.
posted by griphus at 8:49 AM on September 23, 2010

Everyone's already got this covered, but just as a reminder - libraries are always in need of 'popular' books - like when Harry Potter was huge. The waiting list for these books often get into the 100s and any extra copies that you're done with go a long, long ways towards making others happy.
posted by unixrat at 8:49 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

My library has an annual booksale. The books that aren't sold then are purchased by a few used book dealers.
posted by dragonplayer at 8:53 AM on September 23, 2010

I worked at a college library where they were happy to utilize hard-backs in good condition. Donated paperbacks were sold every few months.

As mentioned, they'd tell you if they didn't want them. Worse comes to worse, they'll trash them.
posted by bardic at 8:55 AM on September 23, 2010

My library growing up not only did the use 'em or sell 'em, but they'd take popular fiction paperbacks and had a small rack in the train station for the city commuter train. I FREAKING LOVED THAT THING. It was an honor system, you were supposed to bring your book back or donate a different one, but it wasn't a big deal since they were constantly getting new donations.

I spent summer after summer in college commuting downtown and reading other people's discarded paperbacks for free. It was AWESOME. I sincerely hope people donating books knew how super-awesome that program was.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:01 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Librarian here. Donations go to our selectors (the librarians who decide what goes into the collection) for decisions. They'll either accept them for the collection and forward them for processing, or they'll reject them and forward them to our Friends of the Library group.

If accepted for the collection, they do get lowest priority for processing. We sometimes have donations that hang around back here (I'm the cataloger, I work in the back room where this stuff gets processed) waiting for cataloging, property stamping, jacket covers etc. for a year. Or more. And sometimes after hanging around for that long, we decide that they need too much work (for instance, original cataloging) or are no longer relevant, and then they get sent to Friends anyway.

If sent to Friends, they sell them on eBay or in our library's permanent sale area, or at the huge semi-annual book sale. The money earned by the Friends goes directly to help the library: they fund our Best Seller collection (new, popular items with long holds lists), they bought the ATM that lives in our lobby, they have purchased equipment that we need and did not have the budget for (such as a machine which repairs CDs and DVDs), etc. Our Friends group is very successful and their support is a HUGE help to us.

Sometimes, Friends decides they can't sell something. I think at that point they either recycle the item or give it to Goodwill, but I couldn't say for certainty which it is.

So, TL DR: yeah it's worth it to donate your used books to your library.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:06 AM on September 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

In the New Orleans public system, all donations go straight to the Friends. None are integrated into the collection. There's a twice-weekly booksale as well as a rack or cart of books for sale in every branch. It's definitely worth it as they make a decent amount of money from sales.
posted by CheeseLouise at 9:25 AM on September 23, 2010

At least in the Sno-Isle system in Washington State, if you donate books you get a reciept; you can write off the value of the books for your taxes. Nice, especially since selling books to a used bookstore gets you a tiny amount for what might be an expensive reference work or something.
posted by The otter lady at 9:43 AM on September 23, 2010

I'm a librarian as well.

I think it will depend on the library what actually happens with donated books. Our system does not put any into circulation.

Our branch library will put donated books into a used book sale room and the proceeds to go to help the library.

However, every once in a while someone wants to donate a bunch of gross, old, smelly books. Kind of like "these have been in my basement for 15 years and I thought you could use them." These books don't sell. It would be better to throw them away than to bring them to the library.

That being said, it doesn't sound like that is the type of book you are donating. I'm guessing since your library is accepting them, they are using them.
posted by morganannie at 9:48 AM on September 23, 2010

This depends wildly on the library. I recounted before my shock at seeing a Dumpster full of discarded books that did not survive the half-hearted yearly sale, though they were in good shape, did not smell, and so forth. The books were being rained upon. Books are like kittens, I want to take them all home with me, even though I know I could not. I rescued a few (one was even autographed, they pitched an autographed book!) and that was that.

Ask your library and request that they not pull punches. That is the only way you'll know.
posted by adipocere at 9:50 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hello kind book donor. You're the reason my kiddo picked up a 1940's illustrated edition of The Swiss Family Robinson that is now loved by said kid who paid a whole $1 for it. Thank you.
posted by onhazier at 10:28 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

adipocere, it's complicated because donated books still cost time and money to process, and even book sales cost resources to run. (Cataloger here, employed currently and formerly by some desperately underfunded places.)

OP, the Bibliotheque Nationale and other such big places will have good triage systems in place for donations. I worked at a big main-library-type place that ran a library bookstore, got some of the books resold, others donated to schools in developing countries, others recycled, etc. Small and/or special collections, even within big institutions, may have a tougher time. Please don't freak when my science librarian colleagues don't want your parents' crusty old chemistry textbooks; they have collection policies to stick to and not a lot else they can do.

But yes, donating to your local public library? Totally do that. If they take it, you're good.
posted by clavicle at 11:32 AM on September 23, 2010

All depends on the library. I worked for a large library system and a local bookseller would do a look over of the books, pulling anything valuable aside. This was then put into a few different online sellers (ebay, ABE etc) where the money was split 50/50 between library and dealer.

Where I work now we pretty much take any donations (except bloody Nat. Geos.) but I get nervous if see more than a couple of boxes come through the door as that usually implies "Granny died and we are clearing out her attic". Donations are then sorted with a small portion (25%) going into the collection, another portion going to the booksale (50%) and the rest to recycling. Stuff that does not sell at the booksale is then recycled.

We always say donations of newer books in good condition are always appreciated and will help the library in one way or another.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 12:14 PM on September 23, 2010

My friends recently tried to donate a large amount (100+) of barely-used books to the Brooklyn library and were turned down wholesale and told to find a charity.

The BPL has a limit on how many books you can donate per week. I'm guessing they tried to bring them all in at once. If you're within the limit, then they will take them.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:11 PM on September 23, 2010

I am a library director. I loathe getting book donations.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 10:41 PM on September 23, 2010

Since you're asking about libraries in general (and libraries in California in specific in general): my library seems to love donated books.

This very week is the week of the Big Book Sale, sponsored by the Friends of the San Francisco Library.

From their What We Do page:

"Each year, Friends recycles more than 600,000 donated books through our Book Operations. We donate books to the Library, Schools and non-profits. We also resell these books at our two books stores at the Main Library and Fort Mason, the largest annual book sale on the West Coast, and smaller sales on the steps of the Main Library."

In recent years, they've raised about a quarter of a million dollars (each year) with the annual Big Book Sale.

Personally, I am totally addicted to the Big Book Sale and have been known to bring home more than 100 books on Dollar Day. So you're not only helping your library - you're making me very, very happy.
posted by kristi at 4:35 PM on September 24, 2010

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