Books: To donate or not to donate?

Today’s guest post is written by Ruth DeWitt, the Friends Coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library in Kansas. She is responsible for overseeing all the book donations that come to the library. We contacted her to give us deeper insight as to what to donate, what to trash, and what to sell or Freecycle. Her insights taught us a great deal. You can learn more about the Lawrence Public Library — an extremely vibrant and technology-driving library — on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Uncluttering? One of the hardest things to get rid of is our books. We have emotional ties to our books. Whether we bonded with a character, learned a lesson from the story, or were inspired by someone’s biography, books make personal memories for us — and because of that, they are almost impossible to throw away. But … they take up room, and there are only so many bookshelves we can put in our house, they are heavy to move around, and are we really going to re-read that mystery when we already know the ending?

So, how do you get rid of your books? First, the hard truth is, some books actually can be thrown away. If books have gotten wet in a damp basement, are moldy with brown spots, have covers torn off or pages missing, it is time for them to be recycled. (Note: it is not always easy to find a waste company that recycles books, please check with your local service first.) Even very old books usually lose their value when they are in terrible condition. So, be brave, honestly assess the condition of some of your favorite reads, and if they are bad, please discard.

Second, check with your local library to see if they have a Friends group. Generally, Friends groups are separate entities from your library, which have as their mission raising money in support of the local library’s programming, collections, equipment, or activities. Not all, but many Friends groups resell donated books either through online sales, used book sales, book stores in the library, or honor-system displays scattered around the town, or a combination. In other words, many Friends groups’ very bread and butter are your gently used, donated books. It is a great way to unclutter your space, and feel great about passing your books on to a new home. And, in some instances, you can get a receipt for a tax donation.

But, before you back the moving van up to your library, please check with your Friends group. They probably have a list of what they will and can’t accept, and please respect that list. You can probably find it on your library’s website. If you have a huge donation, please contact them directly, as it is sometimes difficult to accept huge amounts of books at once or there may be a different place to drop large donations, rather than a typical lobby drop box for a couple of bags. Because of liability issues, it is not easy for a Friends group (who are mostly staffed by volunteers) to come to your house and pick up your books. It may be possible, but that is based on the group’s policy. Most likely, you will need to get the books to the library yourself.

Our Friends group in Lawrence, Kansas, recently adopted some guidelines when we moved into a smaller space because of a library renovation. We had to stop accepting vinyl (which we plan to resume when we move into the renovated building), but many Friends groups have stopped taking it all together. We followed the lead of many of our local Friends entities, and are no longer accepting VHS or cassette tapes. We cannot take magazines, yes, even National Geographic, or Encyclopedia sets. A lot of us have found our beautiful Encyclopedia sets are taking up a lot of room, and have been displaced by something called “the internet,” but they don’t sell at Friends sales regardless of what terrific shape they’re in. They do, however, often get snatched up on Craigslist or if you have a local Freecycle network where they can be listed for free. There are some folks out there who are happy to give them a good home. DVDs, Audiobooks, and sheet music are usually good sellers, and we accept both video and board games, and they do very well.

Again, please be sure to check with your local library before you bring your piles of books to them. No matter where you are, it is a guarantee that your library Friends will put your donation to good use by not only selling your books, but giving the proceeds back to the library. The group also serves to promote literacy by getting low priced books into the community, and makes reading and the love of books accessible to all. There is hardly a better cause, and you’ve created more space in your living area at the same time.

22 Comments for “Books: To donate or not to donate?”

  1. posted by Allison on

    Goodwill, The Salvation Army, St-Vincent de Paul, and other similar charity shops usually accept book donations too. If you want to try to get some money out of your books, many used books stores will buy or give you trade credit if your books are sale-able. As a general rule, the least sale-able books are old textbooks and computer books and mass market romance novels, so it’s probably not worth trying to sell those.

  2. posted by Tawnya on

    I am a librarian and we will even add donations to our collection if they are in good enough shape! Our paperback collection is entirely made up of donated books, and many of our hardcover titles have been donated as well. If they are outside of our collection guidelines, in less than perfect condition, or if we already have enough of a particular title in our collection, then they go to our book sale, the proceeds of which help us buy new books 🙂 In short, we love donations!

  3. posted by Cher on

    Thank you for posting this! I work in a library and we used to spend SO MUCH time simply sorting through donations-most of which were not in useable condition or were out-of-date, like encyclopedias that referenced the “current war” with the USSR.

    We eventually stopped accepting donations altogether, but did put together a list of places that DO accept donations- it may be helpful to those of you who can’t donate to libraries. Regardless of if your library accepts donations, you can always call to ask what places do accept donations.

  4. posted by M.J on

    Books are the hardest possessions of mine to dispose of. After running out of shelving last month I boxed 4 lots of books and gave them to our local animal charity who has a bookshop in the village. Three days later, the kind lady who picked them up from arrived with an envelope stuffed with some of my personal correspondence. I had forgotten to leaf through the pages of the books before I boxed and taped them, in between some of the pages, the shop assistants found, utility bills, bank statements and an a array of notes I’d used as bookmark.
    So my advice is before you box up those books and give them away to charity, check them first!

  5. posted by Mary on

    Thank you Ruth for this post. I work for a Friends group and can relate to everything in your post. It would be very helpful if people with books to donate would look through them before taking them to the library. You can tell when boxes of books have come straight from the basement or attic without being checked first. Some are just unhealthy to handle. We are greatful for the many wonderful donations.

  6. posted by Dorothy on

    My DMIL had a set of encyclopedias she wanted to get rid of and we didn’t want to just put them in a land fill.

    I needed an end table to go next to my couch. So I made two stacks of the encyclopedia volumes and put a piece of glass on top of them. Voila! A book-themed end table that fits right into my decor (using the term losely) that cost something like $6 which I spent on having the glass cut at the local place. They polished the edges and rounded the corners, too!

    This end table mates my coffee table book coffee table. I took all my big art books, put them in two piles, and put a piece of glass on top of them.

  7. posted by Shark Mom on

    It was time to get rid of the huge amount of children’s books I had accumulated, my last child is going to be in eight grade and is now beyond the books I had. All told I had over 20 large boxes of books. I knew my local used book store would pass on huge numbers of the books for wear reasons, I also was unsure if my car could carry the weight to donate them to those places I knew would be happy to take them.

    So I advertised them through a large local email group (but Craig’s List would work, too) which caters to parents. I called it a library building sale and offered each box for $5. The went quickly and I had several people email me how delighted their children were with the contents.

  8. posted by Melissa Barnes on

    Look at donating to Books for Africa. They will take some text books as well as other books.

  9. posted by Marie on

    I do not understand the public obsession with National Geographics. People seem to think it’s so rare to own a ton of them, yet every other person can make that claim. Now that you can buy their entire historical library on DVD, hoarding them makes even less sense. Stop the yellow-bound madness!

  10. posted by Another Deb on

    Marie, I remember a story of a Cold War spy whose cover was blown when the neighbors noticed that he THREW AWAY his National Geographics after he read them. That must have been a clear sign of un-American activities!

  11. posted by Me on

    There’s never a reason for a book to go to landfill. If it is out of date or has pages missing etc just remove the covers and put the pages in with your regular paper recycling.

    I’ve spent 2013 re-reading through my fiction collection and have donated them all to the charity shop.

    The charity shop will raise money from their sale and people who maybe can’t afford new books benefit from the reduced prices.

  12. posted by Andi Willis on

    As a fellow professional organizer I always encourage my clients to take their books and magazines to our county library’s friends group. The library gets first dibs on the books if they flesh out their collection, then the remainder are sold at the Old Book sale. I just found out that they will also take magazines. Those that don’t sell are given to a local jail ministry. Oh, and it’s all tax deductible! Win-win! Thanks for encouraging this practice.

  13. posted by Barbara on

    Several local churches have a collection box from Got Books ( so we donated my dad’s history book collection (two station wagons full) after his death. My mother appreciated not having to sort or go through everything.

  14. posted by Sandy on

    I donate lots of books too. But if you’d like some new reading material in return, you can also trade books (in good condition) online at sites like Audiobooks included. But my first (frugal) stop in sorting books is to see if it’s worth listing on my seller account. It’s surprising to me that I’ve sold so many.

  15. posted by Elizabeth on

    As my children outgrew books, I asked at their schools if their former teachers at the appropriate grade level were interested in them for their classroom or the librarian for the school library. This was especially enjoyed by second language teachers. I also regularly donate books, adult and children, to our local woman’s shelter and church groups. Books are often welcomed at places other than libraries, as reading is a source of comfort to many. Libraries are great but sometimes unable to accept donations.

  16. posted by Kerrie on

    If your in the Baltimore area please check out The Book Thing of Baltimore. It’s a nonprofit that will accept ANY books. They stamp the books so that they cannot be resold, and are available to anyone for FREE. It’s a wonderful resource used by students, teachers, and other members of the community.

  17. posted by Jeannette on

    A bit over two years ago I had the experience of shedding most of the possessions in my rather large house, and remarrying and moving to another state.
    Both my late first husband and I had accumulated many books, many of which were very nice books indeed. I decided that I would keep only those that I thought I would re-read, and send the rest out into the world for others to enjoy. I gave books to friends, to local libraries, and to local used-book stores. And some I sold online to Powell Books in Portland Oregon. They have a very nice system on their website: you enter the ISBN number, and they tell you whether or not they’re interested, and how much they will give you for the book. They give you a label for free shipping via the Post Office (you have to provide your own box), and they will pay you either with a store credit or cash — a lesser amount — into a PayPal account. There is a minimum dollar amount for each shipment of books, and books must be in good condition.

  18. posted by Teq on

    I send magazines and books to our school so the teachers and staff can read them.

    Even if you child is in highschool and you still have some of their preschool books send anyway. There is bound to be a teacher who is pregnant or has a child that could use the book you are sending. Or they might take it and give to another teacher in a lower grade who could use it for their classrooms.

  19. posted by rvchua on

    I used to sell my used books at a thrift store but unfortunately they have closed. My mother gave me several bags of books to dispose. I have managed to get rid of some via facebook, reading blogs and bookmooch (shipping can be pricy even for local areas). Still I have a lot of books left. I tried emailing a used bookstore and a public library but so far there have been no feedback.

  20. posted by Erica on

    For magazines, try homeless shelters and hospitals. Childrens hospitals often can use childrens’ magazines and puzzle books. I called recently to offer a box of Highlights and similar magazines, and the hospital was particularly pleased that they are untouched – I thought they would ONLY want unmarked copies, but they actually can use others. Childrens hospitals may also be able to take VHS tapes. (THey use all this to entertain kids while in waiting rooms, recovery rooms and similar places.) Also, homeless shelters might be able to use some of these things.

    Children’s books may be accepted by public schools, if the public schools are as woefully underfunded as they are in my neighborhood. There is an organization called Project Cicero that also collects kids’ books for the public schools. My sister’s Jewish Community Center has an annual book sale, and they accept a broad range of books for those. For specialized books (like foreign language books, etc.), sometimes universities, cultural associations or similar groups want them. For hobbies (e.g., knitting), guilds or clubs may want them. These are some other places I’ve collected in NYC (some of them accept books by mail):

    Kids books: – – Quality, gently-used children’s books appropriate for infants to 18 years of age

    The Bridge of Books Foundation – – New and used children’s books, from preschool through high school

    Children For Children, 985 Fifth Avenue (at 79th Street) clearly marked

    The Children’s Book Project –

    Global Literacy Project –
    – Pre-K to 12th grade reading books as well as Math and science textbooks

    International Book Project –

    Public schools

    The New York Society Library at 212.717.0357 –, [email protected]

    Project Night Night –

    Project Smile – – New or gently-used children’s books

    Books generally:

    African Library Project – builds libraries in African English speaking countries

    Better World Books
    Attn: Rebuild NOPL
    55740 Currant Road
    Mishawaka IN 46545
    [email protected]

    Books for Africa,

    Books for Soldiers –

    Books Through Bars – http://www.booksthroughbars.or.....nate-books

    Bridge to Asia
    Foreign Trade Services
    Pier 23
    San Francisco, CA 94111

    Darien Book Aid –

    The Help Kenya Project –

    International Book Project –

    Public library

    Salvation Army – http://www.salvationarmyusa.or.....ys-to-give

  21. posted by Jessa Eanes on

    I will ask my friends and relatives to donate. I hope we can help in our most simple way. Let’s make this viral!

  22. posted by Erica on

    I forgot to mention local historical societies and similar organizations – they often can use books of history and similar items. (As well as family photos, movies, and other materials taken in the area, etc.)

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