I know I want to keep it, but can't. So can you, library dearest?
August 15, 2013 2:57 PM   Subscribe

In order to declutterize myself, I'm thinking of donating some stuff to yon local library. Thing is, I would like to be certain that it would end up on shelves and not in the dump. So how do they choose what to keep...rarity? Value? Usefulness to the common public? Is there anyway I can persuade / convince the library to keep my donation?

The majority of things I'd like to donate are CDs and books in foreign languages and from the other side of the world. It's all media that would be very hard to come by here, and not things immediately appealing to the monolingual, monocultural and jingoistic community in which I am currently stuck.

One way to see this is that, yeah, this stuff had to make one heckuva journey to get here, so let's keep it cuz it's all original and cool and of the neverseeitagain kind.

On the other hand, though, seeing as it all would be mostly inaccessible and therefore useless to the majority of people here... the materials would probably never see any action, so to speak.

So would the library bother with my donation at all? Or would they just chuck it in the bin and be done with it? And how do they decide which donations to keep anyway?

And if they decide not to add my donation to their collection, is there anything I can say to convince them otherwise? Obviously bribing is out of the question. Maybe writing a letter to the Director of the library or the Acquisitions Department head?

[Chose "grab bag" for category because I couldn't see a better one; mods, if a better category fits, please fix that.]
posted by ditto75 to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
They will probably chuck most of it if they even agree to accept it (which is unlikely). Believe me, I know where you're coming from (I have thousands of books and have had to get rid of a fair number; at one point I wound up just giving boxes of them to a guy across the street who had garage sales, and was grateful he was willing to take them), but libraries have pretty clear ideas of what they want, and by and large it's not what you have. Try to find some other way of disposing of the stuff if you need to get rid of it.
posted by languagehat at 3:03 PM on August 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

Every library I've ever used has used donations for their book sales only. I think it's pretty rare for a library to add donations to their own collection, even if they're books that would see a lot of action... and a lot of libraries are hurting for shelf space. I think it's unlikely that you'll convince them to keep your books, and unless they have space to spare, it's probably the right decision for them.
posted by Kriesa at 3:04 PM on August 15, 2013 [14 favorites]

This askMeFi post might help you evaluate how your books would rate.
posted by Kriesa at 3:08 PM on August 15, 2013

This is not a doable thing. Libraries have collection development policies. If you are in the US they probably have a publicly available collection development policy so you can see what sorts of things they acquire and what the outlines of their policies are. However, as much as you'd like to give them stuff that will be repurposed and shared with the patrons, this usually doesn't happen unless the items you have are

1. in decent condition and/or in library-durable containers (for CDs)
2. easily cataloged/shelved/processed
3. filling a niche in a category that the library already collects in
4. in a way that isn't duplicating existing stock

I share your views, I wish there was a way to do this also. You could certainly write a letter to the library offering your collection to become part of their collection. This is likely to go over better than just checking the collection development policy and explaining to the library why they should put your stuff on the shelf. You might find that a system like a Little Free Library where you basically just gave the stuff away and/or traded with people who shared your interests might be worthwhile. Also I realize that this is unlikely but it's possible that there is another organization that might benefit from the stuff you have, particularly the language stuff, something like a local books to prisoners group?
posted by jessamyn at 3:09 PM on August 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm a librarian in a public library and I do a lot of acquisitions work. I am actually the foreign language selector, so if you donated things to my library, I would be the one responsible for deciding whether or not to keep them.

There are a few criteria I use to decide if I would like to add foreign language materials to the collection.

1. Is it new and/or would it circulate? We acquire things so our patrons can use them, full stop. If the local community would not be interested in the material, we do not add it.

2. Is it stuff we even collect at all? We only collect in a handful of languages, because those are the languages our local community speaks (you can find this information in census data). If your local library does not have any material in the language(s) of your stuff, it's unlikely they'll accept it.

3. Are there good existing catalog records for the material? I do not speak the languages that I collect. I am the cataloger, and I can't do original cataloging on most foreign language material. If there is a decent record in Worldcat it is much, much more likely that I will accept the material.

4. Do we have the time/staff to work on the donations? In my library, donations are processed when we have time, which we hardly ever do.

That said, my library does accept any and all materials for our Friends of the Library book sales, which directly support the library and are a good thing. So even if the material is not added to the collection, you may still be supporting your library (though some libraries, especially smaller ones, just don't have the staff to deal with donations at all, so check with yours).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:14 PM on August 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

A smaller, less formal library, like one in a school or church, might welcome a few items.
posted by 1smartcookie at 3:14 PM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

My local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is not accepting book donations at all, at least right now. So you may want to call before lugging things over there.
posted by miskatonic at 3:14 PM on August 15, 2013

Also, check with university libraries, if there is one in your area. Public libraries are unlikely to accept your donation, but depending on the size and the scope of programs at your nearest university, they might be interested.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:16 PM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! Just to clarify, yes the materials are in good condition (actually, most are like new if not new) and are in their respective packages (for CDs).

Come to think of it,I have seen materials in the library's collection that were in the language of my donation items...why they would keep those and not mine would be a question to ask the library, I suppose.
posted by ditto75 at 3:19 PM on August 15, 2013

I'm in charge of donations at the public library I work at, and at least 95% of the items we receive are either recycled or placed in our book sale (and eventually recycled if they don't sell, which most don't). We are also receiving so many donations that we are considering implementing a no donations policy because they are generally more trouble than they're worth.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:28 PM on August 15, 2013

Re the foreign language items, contact the languages departments at nearby university or community college. Those departments are typically not that well funded and they might appreciate the books/CDs or at least get them into the hands of motivated students.
posted by Gotanda at 3:35 PM on August 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Remember also that there are inherent but hidden-to-you costs in accepting your items into the collection. They need to be cataloged, stickered, shelf space must be found for them, etc. Sometimes the costs, while not enormous, are not outpaced by the value of your items to the libraries. At some libraries, even when a collection is desired, a donation is required to help with processing/storage/maintenance costs.
posted by donnagirl at 3:36 PM on August 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

When donations come into my library, they go through this process:

1. Do we have it? Do we want it? Is it in good condition? Then we add it to the collection.

2. If we already have it/don't want it, it goes to the Friends Book Sale. All proceeds come to the Library.

3. If it is in bad condition, we will chuck it.

Every library has different policies. You might call to ask, I'm sure the director (or person in charge of handling donations) would be willing to answer questions. Most libraries have a gifts policy nowadays.
posted by Elly Vortex at 3:42 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Send them to prisoners! MeMail me if this idea appeals to you.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:06 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work at an academic library that no longer accepts unsolicited book donations. The vast majority of donations were duplicates or not relevant to our collection, and we ended up spending more in staff time to process the donations than we made when we sold the items we didn't want.

Come to think of it,I have seen materials in the library's collection that were in the language of my donation items...why they would keep those and not mine would be a question to ask the library, I suppose.

I know you mean well, but I'd really discourage this approach. First, you are asking the library to give you a report on each individual item you donate, significantly increasing their time to process these materials. Next, you are challenging their expertise.

Obviously bribing is out of the question.
Not necessarily. If you can donate money to off-set the processing of your donations, I'm sure they'd be glad to accept it. But this shouldn't change whether they include your items in their collection.

I'd suggest emailing the library with a list of items by title. If they are not interested, move on. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:07 PM on August 15, 2013

I once asked my local library this same basic question—here it is and their reply:
Question: I once heard that it costs a certain amount for a book to become "library ready" so the idea of donating a book to the library actually ended up costing the library a lot more money (I'm guessing for the people-power to wrap it in the mylar cover, add the stickers, enter it into the database, et cetera).

Anyway, I'm wondering if this is true. I have some books, CDs, DVDs that I'd think about donating but I don't want to actually cost the library more money. Also, I only have one copy of each while the library usually seems to have at least 3 copies of most things.

Answer: (from Ty Thompson, Assistant Collections Services Manager, Multnomah County Library)

"Thank you for your question about adding gifts to our collection.

You are correct that there is a cost for adding gift copies to our collection. The 'up front' cost is about $7.00 per copy depending upon the title. These up front costs are for adding the item to our catalog, barcoding, stamping, jacketing etc. What we need to add to that is the cost of staff reviewing the thousands of items that are donated every month, sorting, checking condition, checking to see if we own the title, how well the title is being used in our collection and how many copies we own. These hidden costs are actually what raises the cost considerably as it is our reference staff who need to make the judgements in these areas.

When you add the hidden costs to the up front cost, it comes very close to what we pay for a new copy from our vendor. Our primary vendor gives us a 40% discount off from retail cost, so for example, a $20.00 item will cost us only $12.00.

Other factors we consider are the condition of the material being donated vs the heavy use library material receives. Book club editions or used copies in varying condition usually are not worth the investment of time as they do not stand up well to the use given our material by our varied clientele. We also rarely add single copies of a title to our collection. Our minimum is two and that is for more esoteric, limited interest material. If we receive a donation of a title that we don't own and we consider adding it to our collection, we will purchase additional copies. If additional copies are not obtainable, we would not add it to our collection.

All of this does not mean we will not add gift copies, we are just very selective to ensure that the investment in time is worth the result.

What we have found is that by funneling the majority of our donations to the Friends of the Library for their annual book sales, we are able to handle the huge volume of donations we receive and still retain the benefit of the generosity of the donors. The Friends is a volunteer organization, and typically net in excess of $50,000 in their annual book sale. The Friends then use that money to support programs or the purchase of materials in targeted areas.

We would welcome your donation of cds and dvds if you are agreeable to the idea that the material may not be added to our collection and would go to the Friends of the Library for their annual sale."
posted by blueberry at 5:34 PM on August 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

Call your library and ask what their policy is - I know that at mine (Wake County, NC) they only keep books that are already in their catalog and are in good shape. Everything else goes on sale at their annual book sale.
posted by something something at 5:35 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the key here is to get yourself into the right frame of mind so that you believe that your books and CDs are going to a good home, making it OK to get rid of them.

Let them go. Don't ask too many questions. Choose to believe that they will have a happy ending. That's the important part.

(I speak from experience, as a recovering clutterer.)
posted by overleaf at 5:43 PM on August 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am a librarian and once things are donated they become property of the county, so discarding them fore reasons other than condition would be fiscally irresponsible.
What ever doesn't sell at book sale gets shredded and recycled.
Our library system really appreciates donations, no matter if the end up in the collection or the book sale. Either way everyone wins.
posted by TheLibrarian at 5:48 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want them to be on shelves where you know multiple people will be entertained and/or educated by them, you might also consider donating to assisted living facilities, hospitals with acute care centers, nearest immigration detention facility, and even the public jail for your municipality (not the private prisons; you'll typically get a better reception at the county lock-up).
posted by batmonkey at 8:24 PM on August 15, 2013

Here's how it worked when I was a librarian in a public library in a big city, but this was several years ago. We accepted all donations of any kind in any condition, and stored them on shelves out of the way, roughly divided by subject. Once a week, one librarian from each subject area went to look over the new crop of donations. Every public service librarian had a turn, in consistent rotation. She chose some materials that were suitable for her subject section, and sent them to be catalogued, after stealing the material she wanted for herself. Everyone stole what interested her, it was an open secret. The leftovers went to the Friends Of the Library sales, where most of it was picked up by people who actually wanted it. Anything left was recycled or pitched.
posted by melesana at 9:50 PM on August 15, 2013

To clarify: donating books to prisoners is a wonderful idea, but you MUST donate them through a books to prisoners program. State and federal prisons will only accept books from these programs, or book stores, or directly from publishers. And no CDs or DVDs, ever.
posted by kestralwing at 2:38 AM on August 16, 2013

I've heard those books must be brand new, or they'll be rejected (but that may only apply to books given directly to a certain prisoner, and may depend on the jurisdiction).
posted by Rash at 9:45 AM on August 16, 2013

In the past, I have also donated books to Goodwill. They'll put them for cheap sale in their stores, and the donation is tax-deductible.

If donation to a library or other charity turns out not to be feasible, you might also want to consider using a service like BookCrossing or Paperback Swap. With BookCrossing, you leave the book in a public place and hopefully someone picks it up and writes something about it. With Paperback Swap (which is not limited to paperbacks), other members request your books, you pay the postage to mail the book to them, and you earn one credit per book (2 credits for audiobooks). You can then use those credits to get other books from other members (which you probably don't want to do if you're decluttering), or you can sell the credits on the community forum to people who want them to request books.

I've used both services. With Paperback Swap you do run the risk of books sitting on your virtual bookshelf for months or years... it depends if they are high-demand titles. Some get requested right away, as soon as you click the "list" button. With BookCrossing people tended to pick up the book, read it, and return it to the same place with a thank you note. That's not the real point of BookCrossing, but that may have been due to the choices I made for places to leave my books.
posted by tckma at 10:39 AM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was volunteering in high school, a patron of the Ann Arbor Public Library wanted to donate his large collection, which was mostly stuff the library had no real interest in, but that the donor didn't want sold off. So what they did as a compromise was twofold — one, they got a large cash donation to go along with it, covering the costs of cataloging, shelf space, etc. Two, they put circulation requirements on the books, so that if no one had checked them out in, say, two years, they were to be deaccessioned and sold or recycled. It worked, in that the rare, interesting stuff that wouldn't have ordinarily been part of the remit of the library (a lot of vexillological stuff, if I recall correctly) got held on to in a designated nook with the dude's name on it, and the vast majority of the, like, nominally rare books (first edition Andromeda Strain!) just got sold off to people who wanted them.

Schools may also be a place to look — you could support a language program with lit and etc., and they're usually less picky than libraries proper.
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on August 16, 2013

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