Saturday, March 27, 2010

So You Want to Donate Books

When I posted about donating books to my local library a few weeks ago, I got a bunch of comments from bloggers who wanted to donate books to their libraries as well but who either didn't know how to go about doing it or were thwarted when they saw their brand-new hardcover new releases on sale for a dollar at the semi-annual library book sale. Yeah, we know how that goes, and we certainly don't want our brand new books to end up there!

Therefore, I've compiled a list of tips that can help you have a better donating experience. And I've also included a starters list of resources for worthy causes and locations that will always be happy to accept donations from you!

1. Do Your Research

You'll get the most bang out of your, er, donation if you donate to a place that badly needs it. Check out the public libraries or schools in your area. How is their collection? What is the ratio of new releases to older books? If your library seems to get those highly anticipated new releases practically before you even see them in bookstores, then they probably don't need donations as much as others do. My hometown library, for example, has an incredible teen section and a "New Releases" bookshelf that's constantly being replenished. On the other hand, the public library in my college town seems to only be able to buy 5-10 new hardcovers each season. (I may be wrong on this, but that's just what it feels like to me.) If I donate to my college town's library, my donation is "worth" more, in that it'll go into the system as one of only a handful of copies of that particular book available in our network. If I donate to my hometown's library, I'd probably find it in their monthly book sale.

Do you live in or know a state that has recently faced a library budget cut? Chances are that if you're an avid book lover, peruser of book-related sites, and library user, you'll know if your library budget is in jeopardy. I go to school in Pennsylvania, and last fall our state cut over 30% of the public libraries' budgets. The Free Library of Philadelphia network, which consisted over over 40 branches, was thisclose to having to close down completely due to lack of funding. Horrifying. Unfortunately this situation is becoming more and more common, and these states would gladly take your donations for their collections. More on this later.

2. Talk to the children's, teen, or acquisitions librarian.

Once I realized that my local library could benefit greatly from my donations, I talked to their full-time, paid librarian about the possibility of me donating books for their children's and teen collection. Don't start blabbering about donating to the volunteers who man the checkout counter: they usually don't know what to do with you, and will A) either direct you to the full-time, paid librarian you were supposed to talk to in the first place, or B) tell you about them accepting donations for their book sale, WHICH IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT. (On the other hand, if you don't know who the teen/acquisitions librarian is, I'm sure the volunteers do.)

Don't come in with a boxful of donations at the very first meeting: get to know that librarian first. If you have the time, establish a relationship. Let him/her know that you are a book blogger and often receive finished copies of new releases to review, and are wondering if you'd be able to donate those books to the library's collection once you have reviewed them. They'll usually fall over you, and even if they don't really get the importance of the blogger in the way that many publishers do, they will be sure to ask about your blog and whatnot. If you have a business card, give it to the librarian. Show him/her that you are a frequent visitor and/or someone who's actively involved in the book industry. (Which, as a blogger, you are!) Once they know that you're not just someone looking to dump a half-dozen boxes of moldy, outdated books on their doorstep, they'd be happy to consider your donation.

3. When donating, give the books directly to the children's/teen/acquisitions librarian.

This is similar to Number 2. Don't just leave the books with volunteers, who will more likely than not just point you to the big box labeled "Donations for Book Sale" that's by the desk or door or whatever. Introduce yourself politely again, remind the librarian who you are and what your purpose with the books are, and either hand the books to them (and watch them fawn over the new releases of the books they had been forced to pass up at the last ordering they made due to budget restrictions) or place them where they ask you to place them, which is usually somewhere in their office.

PLEASE NOTE: ARCs are not meant to be donated to public libraries! You're not supposed to do that. A private, nonprofit, or teacher's classroom library is a different story, of course.

4. The Goldilocks rule.

I wouldn't recommend sending them 12 boxes stuffed full of books all at once: librarians are human too, and they need time to look over the books and see whether they're appropriate for the collection! At the same time, don't come in once a week with just one book to donate. I would find that irritating if I were a librarian, no matter how grateful I'd be to have the book. The past two times I've donated, I've come in with about 7-10 books, which seems like a manageable but impressive lump amount. I'm hoping to make my donations more of a regular affair, coming in perhaps once every 4-6 weeks with a new batch of books for their collection.

5. Avoid dumping off your "weeding-out" castoffs.

I strongly suggest asking your librarians if they're interested in receiving books that were first published over 1.5-2 years ago. Librarians are just like us in that new, shiny stuff attracts them more than oldies but goodies. There was a reason they passed on ordering those books when they first came out. Remember: librarians have the right to put your donations into their book sale, so if you want to minimize that occurrence, check beforehand to see if there's a "limit" as to the publication year they'd accept to improve their collection. (Or do any librarian bloggers reading this know? I'd be supremely grateful if you could answer this question!)

6. Check when your books have been entered into the system.

This is obviously to save you a lot of grief. You don't want to have been donating for half a year only to suddenly find out that 90% of your brand new hardcover new releasees donations haven't been making it onto the shelves! That was the main reason why I waited so long between my first and second donations. The first batch took soooo long to process that I was worried they wouldn't accept all my beautiful books! The second batch was entered a lot more quickly: within a week I found them in the online catalog and on the shelves. (I still haven't seen many books from my first donation on the actual shelves themselves--that's because they're always checked out!) It's okay to feel secretly proud and a little possessive of the books you donated: that's human. Who doesn't want their gifts to be appreciated? Figuring out your library's processing time will make it a less nerve-wracking (will they like my books, or will they put it up for sale? *bites nails*) experience and more fun for everyone!

7. Lastly, don't stop donating!

You seriously don't need to keep every book that you receive. Yes, not even the ones that have been signed (especially if you got a much cooler and PERSONALIZED book from that particular author afterwards!). They do no good to languish, untouched, on your own bookshelf: they're much better off being loved by others. If you can make donating a regular event--monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, whatever works best for you!--I guarantee that you'll feel like you're doing something great for the world.

Cool Places/Causes to Donate To

If you live in a region that already has a good public library system, or you'd like to extend your philanthropic hand out a bit further, below are just a few places to get you started.

Maureen Johnson and the Harry Potter Alliance's Accio Books Contest
Superstar author Maureen Johnson is heading up HPA's Ravenclaw house in this year's competition: donate books to the Mississippi Delta! Unlike local public libraries, you can donate ANYTHING (well, any books, of course) to this cause... and you might even get some pretty sweet prizes out of it. Want a signed copy of Maureen's books, a rare galley of upcoming Last Little Blue Envelope (um, *WANTS*), your name in the acknowledgments page of TLLBE, or even a character named after you in her new paranormal crime series?? Yeah, I thought so. And trust me, you can easily find 100 books to donate. But you have to hurry: all donations must be postmarked/donated/tallied up by March 31! Check out Maureen's blog post for more information.

Bring YA2PA
Incredible philanthropist-blogger Harmony (of Harmony Book Reviews) started this program last year to support our poor struggling PA libraries. *sniff* To give you an example of your ability to donate: Harmony (not her real name, which is reallyreally cool) donates pretty much every single book she buys, receives, and reads to her local library. Can we say COOL and WOW? Bring YA2PA holds semi-annual auctions of signed books, critiques, etc. to raise money for the cause, and they are currently planning a large YA author event in Philadelphia, hopefully before I graduate. (And writing about this now is making me feel lame because I should help them out more, instead of simply writing about them.) They're always happy and willing to accept donations to the several libraries whose wishlists are posted on their website. Check out Bring YA2PA if you'd like to help this cause out!

Color Online
This is a blog/program promoting books featuring POC (people of color) and just good books in general to communities that need them, run by a blogger by the name of Susan. I've known Susan and followed her blog for over a year now, and I've donated to Color Online before. How great is it that Susan is making a concerted effort to put more books into the hands of others by offering what's virtually a "mailing library"? They could always use book or monetary donations. Check out Color Online's Book Loans page for more information!

The Reading Room in Brunei Darussalam
If you've got some money to spare, or are looking to do something REALLY special, there's this awesome guy I know who goes by Mr. Jason, who teaches teen girls at a school in Brunei Darussalam, which is a teeny-tiny country in Oceania, near New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and those island nations. Check out Mr. Jason's blog or his BookMooch Charity page to get a sense for how special his program is, how absolutely enthusiastic about reading his students are, and how grateful and excited they are to receive new books. Shipping to Brunei does tend to run high (as I learned the hard way), but post offices sell a flat-rate box that you can just fill with books, which will actually be cheaper than finding a box of your own and mailing it. Anyway, they really are a great bunch of people who would love to take donations. Check them out if you can!


Got any suggestions for me to add to the above list? Questions? Comments? Librarians, advice you'd like to add? I know this post only covers the basics, and teachers might be sad that I didn't mention school libraries as much. But seriously, everyone, there are countless places that would be thrilled to accept your donations. Your unwanted books don't need to end up in Goodwill, or the local used bookstore, or on PaperbackSwap! Consider donating to your local library, or one of these causes, or elsewhere. It'll make a lot of people, most of all you. :)

Questions for Librarians

Below are some questions that I'd be grateful if librarian-bloggers reading this post out thre could answer. Thanks a bunch! Feel free to add anything else you think I and readers would benefit from knowing.

  • Will libraries accept donations of "backlisted" titles--books that have been out already for over a year?
  • Would librarians appreciate/prefer a copy of your review along with your donated book?
  • What are libraries' policies on the condition of books they'd accept into their collection?
  • What goes into the procedure of processing books into the system?
  • Any other way we can make the relationship between librarian and blogger more helpful to both?


  1. Great post, Steph!

    Thanks for mentioning Color Online. I personally know a lot of teachers, librarians and non-profits so donors can be assured that when they donate to Color Online, we give your donations to groups and individuals who will really appreciate them.

  2. As a Teen Librarian, I love people who want to donate books!! Here are some things I look for in donations (and answers to some of your questions...):
    1. I will take brand new books or older, well known titles. Books get damaged, lost, or stolen so we're always looking for replacement copies of popular titles. I'll let you know if I already have 5 copies of a book so that you can donate it somewhere else.
    2. Books must be undamaged when donated. They don't have to be brand spanking new, but we cannot accept anything water damaged or in poor shape. Anything that can potentially hold mold will not only be disgusting on the shelf, but mold spreads to the other books around it so we have to be really careful about that.
    3. I definitely advocate talking directly to the full time Librarian in a teen or children's department and figuring out how much and when you should donate your books. Too many at once are too difficult to sort through depending on the time of year and will often end up just sitting for weeks in my office until I can get to them.

    Hope that helps!

  3. This is a great post full of great advice! :)

  4. Great post with awesome advice, Steph! What with books piling up, probably going away for school in the fall and my sister being only six, I've been thinking about donating some books too. Great information :)

  5. Great post, Steph. I (obviously) think donating to libraries is one of the best things you can do and I always donate everything I can to my library (which you mentioned.)

    Thanks SO much for including PAYA.

  6. Very helpful advice - thank you, Steph!

  7. I'm a high school librarian in WA state and I really wish I could get more donations like this from bloggers. I get only $4,000 a year for a school of 1600 students that love to read YA so I am constantly struggling to keep up with new publications let alone other book needs to keep them happy! I would take new and older titles, but they don't circulate unless they are in pretty good condition.
    I am confused about ARCs, though. I have hesitated to put them in a school library, but if they will never be sold, is it then ok? I have heard different opinions on this issue and I would want to do what's right!
    Thanks for posting this Steph, and for promoting the idea.

  8. Great primer on donating. I'll add a link to this in my New Book Blogger FAQ.

  9. Jessica, thanks so much for answering my questions. You're lucky to be working at a library where you'll have FIVE copies of a book!!

    Karen - I'll try to remember to email you soon regarding your questions! How exciting that you want to promote a good school library for your students. Mine was dusty old nonfiction tomes... booorrriiinnnggg.

  10. School libraries are consistently getting cut. Our librarian is barely even a part time employee and a lot of other schools/districts are in the same boat. The school library is always in desperate need for books, so if your library is always readily stocked then I recommend that you try your local school.

  11. I am a Teen librarian and loved this post, you made a lot of great points especially about not giving us tons of boxes at once.
    At our library we certainly take books that have been out for awhile if they are in goo condition and we don't already have them, or if they are popular titles. (We only keep one copy in circulation at a time to avoid confusions)
    I at least would love a copy of your review and possibly even your permission to keep it with the book, so other teens can read what someone has though about it. I can never get a chance to read all the books that come in. So having a review of it already will help it get checked out.
    We like books that aren't falling apart, that's pretty much the only thing that really matters condition wise.
    At our library we used to have only one processor, she would have to research the books, so that she can put it in the right spot and add a ton of information so people can find books by subject. Books we buy always get processed first and so sometimes she would never be able to get to the donations. Also DVDS and audio book gifts get cataloged first and then Adult books and last place are kids books. So sometimes it will take a long time to get to those last few novels if only one person is doing cataloging.
    I certainly think speaking directly to the person in charge of that section is what will be most helpful. Most YA librarians are really nice and fun and would love to establish a relationship with someone else who loves books as much as us.

  12. Great post!! I hate to see it when people throw books away :( Even if your books do end up in the library book sale, at least they should find good homes!! All of the causes you listed look awesome and I'm going to check their pages out. Here's one more worthy cause-The International Book Project, they send books to developing countries and also have a store where the profits are used for shipping costs.

    Thanks for the awesome post!!

  13. I have donated around 30 - 50 books this year so far to my local library. I don't think I could ever throw a book away, because there could be someone out there who is really wanting to read that book.

    For me personally, its quite a different system in the Uk with regards to libraries. I think because my local librarie is only relatively small, they have a limited young adult and childrens section, and because they don't get a lot of funding, it's hard for them to keep up with recent editions of books or newly published ones. I always feel really proud of myself that other children or teenagers in my area will be able to read more newer titles because of my donations.

    The woman who work at my library are all so nice as well, and are really grateful for any donations they receive. I know the books I have donated are on the shelves, because they sort through them when I am there and enter them into the system. However, there have been occasions when they haven't been able to accept one or two books, but then they just put them in the library loot bin, where the money will go to buying more books for the library.

    I think everyone should donate books, especially because more people are not reading so much at the moment. Great post Steph

  14. This is a great post! I've had difficulty donating to my local library. I took in a book specifically to donate [it had just been released and was brand new] and they were like "Oh we'd be glad to put it in the sale section."

    I had to go back in a week later and hunt down the right person to talk to, who was only there a couple of days a week. Before adding it to the catalog she asked me a ton of different questions about why I thought it should be added and what they would benefit from by adding it, etc. It just seemed so... complicated and long, and we don't even have a ton of new releases or a huge teen selection at that library. I'm pretty sure that if I took a box of books to donate, they'd just end up in their sale section.

  15. Steph, this is a great post with lots of useful info in it! I recently dropped off a bunch of books (like maybe 30) at my local library's bookstore. They told me that the ones published in the last calendar year will be processed to be placed on the shelves, but honestly, I wouldn't mind if they all go to the bookstore for sales. I mean, I can see why you'd want to see your books on the shelves, but the library sales are another way to support your library. And newer books are more likely to be bring in money, I think, than old ones.

    Re: ARCs -- Speaking as an author, I would hesitate before donating an ARC to any library, private or public. They are advance review copies, which means they have errors in them! They are meant solely for review and not for distributing to masses of readers. Also, they are bound relatively poorly because they're not supposed to be lasting, and therefore can often degrade after only a few readings. If you have extra ARCs and want to get rid of them, I would just pass them on to friends. And if you have a heart of gold, you might consider emailing the author and asking them if they can make use of them. I bet the author will LOVE you. (We often don't get very many ARCs, and would love to have more.) Obviously this is most useful if the book hasn't been published yet, but ARCs can still be sent to reviewers even after the book is out.

    Wow, that was a long comment! :)

  16. Thanks for the information on ARCs Malinda. This is how I thought authors were feeling about their ARCs in all library collections. I am using them for prizes for reading challenges and/or keeping them on a shelf at my desk for my voracious readers.

  17. Very informative and awesome post :)

    I personally have always loved to donate my books. I don't much care whether they end up in book sales or library shelves because I figure at least someone other than me is reading (and hopefully) getting enjoyment from them.

    A Goodwill bookstore recently opened up in my neighborhood so now I've mostly been donating books there. I <3 them and I <3 libraries but it's a bit simpler for us because my Mom usually has donations for other household items so I lump my books in there.

    And then kids can get really nice books for only $2 or so. Love that place :)

  18. Wonderful post! Here's my answers to your questions for librarians.

    1. We accept older books, but it's really on a case-by-case basis. If it's something we just missed or couldn't afford when it came out, or if it can replace a copy that's getting worn out, we'll welcome it with open arms! If it's something we don't think will circulate in our community, we'll seel it at a book fair, use it as a summer reading prize, or offer it to other branches.

    2. I think it would be great to see the blogger's review along with the book - especially from teen bloggers. It's nice to see how the community responds to books.

    3. We only accept books that are in good condition and don't have any writing or highlighting in them..

    4. If there aren't any copies of the book already in the system, it had to be sent downtown to be catalogued. Otherwise our Library Aides enter the book into the system and add the barcodes and stickers. Sometimes it does take some time - gifts aren't processed until after purchased materials have been processed.

    5. Most librarians LOVE to hear what patrons read and enjoy - the more we know about your reading preferences, the better our collection will be. Definitely share your blog with your librarians, and feel free to mention upcoming titles that you think the library should be looking out for.

  19. Thank you SO much for this post. Not only is it fantastic, it was something I really needed help with. I have a big box of books I want to donate and I don't know what to do with them. And I'm glad you mentioned Color Online too, and all of them, in fact.

  20. Another factor not listed in the comments so far is if a catalog record already exits. Some library systems can't afford a full-time cataloger and if you can't get a catalog record, you can't get the book on the shelf. I know that as a librarian, I have a stock-pile of donations on a back shelf patiently waiting for them to get cataloged, and, yes, sometimes it takes a year to get them in the system. So have a little patience if it doesn't show up right away. I love getting donations! The retail amount of donated books each month is often times greater than what my book budget is, so every donation helps considerably! And as someone mentioned before, the library book sales aren't a bad thing. The money goes straight back to the library to buy more books!

  21. Hi Steph,
    Found you and this post via BBAW. This is a great post and I've added a link to it in the comments on a post I have about book charities ( ) - not all the charities accept donations of books, but many of them do.

  22. Thanks for clarifying the No-Arcs to library rule. I wasn't sure about that.

  23. Hi,

    We are teachers of English as a second language here in Morocco(North Africa) in a rural area and we would like you to help us equip our school library with some books , computers, and any other learning materials in the English language. Our school is a public junior high school. Studnts are between 13 and 16 years old. The reading levels of our students are beginning and intermediate. They need books about the English grammar, fiction, story books, dictionaries, reading...(100 to 200 books). We will also appreciate giving us any information of other organizations that may help us bring books to our children.


    Mustapha Sifa

    School name: College Al Irfane

    Library Project Coordinator: Mustapha Sifa

    Address : 31 Hay Al Quds

    Sidi Bennour 24350


    Tel: 212664374618

    E-mail :


Hello! I'm so excited to read what you have to say. Due to high amounts of spam, I'm forced to disabled anonymous comments for the time being. Sorry for any inconvenience this causes, and I hope you can understand and still appreciate the content here!


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