Question: How can I discard books weeded from my library? Can I donate books to libraries in other countries?
Actively managing your library’s collection and weeding unused titles provides your library patrons with a better collection that meets their needs, but it also results in you having to regularly answer the question of how to discard unwanted books. Here are a few suggestions libraries can use for passing on weeded books:
Used book sales
Many libraries, Friends of the Library groups, and library foundations hold used book sales to sell library discards and donations from the community. These sales can be a good revenue stream for your library, and they can give your community access to the weeded books that your municipal, county, or state funding paid for. These sales can also be a source of books for homeschool families or for book resellers. However, used book sales require a significant amount of staff time, volunteer time, and space. They may require storage space for books between sales, and many books will remain unsold and still have to be dealt with after the sale.
If you do decide to hold used book sales at your library, make sure your library has a policy for discarding withdrawn materials. Many library boards give their director the ability to donate withdrawn books to their Friends group for sales or to donate them to other nonprofit organizations.
Donate books to a resale shop
Some libraries will donate weeded materials to community resale shops, Goodwill, or other resale shops. Some will take all of your unwanted books without question, but many resale shops don’t have the capacity to accept the large number of books that libraries discard. If you do find a place to take them, you’ll still need to use staff or volunteer time to get them there.
Use them for crafts!
You’ll often hear this idea from well-meaning community members, and there are some fun crafts that can be made from discarded books. A quick online search will turn up many ideas for ways to use your books in crafts for kids, teens, and adults, including folded book art, blackout poetry, collage or prints made on book pages, wreaths and garlands made from book pages, and more. But even if you do a LOT of craft activities at your library, it’s unlikely that you could use up enough of your discards to even notice the difference.
Baker & Taylor Sustainable Shelves Program
The Baker & Taylor Sustainable Shelves Program allows libraries to ship books to Baker & Taylor and get credit for any books with resale value. B&T covers the shipping costs, so all your staff has to do is box up the books. Books without resale value get recycled instead of sent to a landfill. I’d love to hear from any libraries that have used this program and learn more about how well it’s working.
Better World Books
Better World Books pays the shipping for libraries to send their discards (prescreened or not) to BWB. They sell any books with resale value, donate one book for every one sold, and use some of the profits made from selling books to support literacy grants around the world. Their website states that “…Each saleable item may generate funds for your library,” (emphasis mine) so the program could provide a small revenue stream for your library.
I have used BWB in the past and have chosen not to continue. Boxing up and shipping books is time consuming for library staff, although not as time consuming as used book sales or hand-delivering to resale shops. We tried a few shipments to BWB without prescreening and we had so few books with resale value that BWB now requires us to prescreening books before sending them. We find that only about 1 in 6 of our library discards meets the prescreening criteria, and our income from BWB was less than $50 after a couple of years of using the service.
The American Library Association has a list of resources for libraries considering International Donation and Shipment of Books. The page includes guidelines for donating books overseas and a list of organizations that accept donations. Remember that donations are not meant to be a place to discard unwanted material: people want current, relevant, and good quality books no matter where they live.
Recycling or trashing unwanted books
Check with your community recycling center for guidelines on whether and how you can recycle used books. Community members can be sensitive about libraries “throwing away books”, so make sure you are as transparent as you can be in the way you dispose of unwanted books. Many in your community may want you to try every other route you can before recycling books, but you have to consider your limited resources and staff time when deciding how to get rid of unwanted things.