or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

What To Do With Used Books

   October 16th, 2006

Recently, my library’s Friends of the Library group held its annual used book sale, and earned an astonishing $32,000 dollars. Some of that is used by the Friends for costs and programming, but the majority of it is handed right over to the library - wow.

Anyway, during the course of the organizing donations and the sale itself, a website got my attention: BookProspector.com. I haven’t checked into it thoroughly, but essentially, this website looks like it buys books specifically from Friends groups, and then resells the books themselves.

It sounds like it has the potential to be shady, but it is also potentially good for other reasons:

  • no financial obligation for libraries
  • libraries without an active volunteer base have an outlet to raise money from selling donated/withdrawn books
  • it’s another way to sell the books that didn’t get sold at the book sale
  • it lets the library sell books year-round, rather than having to store an organize thousands of books for the once-a-year sale
  • it allows more volunteers to participate in the sale. Currently, we have three or so volunteers that “know books,” and they go through and pull out all those they think are worth something. With this website, enthusiastic-but-less-experienced volunteers can input the isbns into the website, and let their algorithms calculate the worth (it’s not as reliable as an experienced Friend, or as involved as eBay, but at least it is a fair market price)

Mainly, though, the thing I like most about this idea is that it tried to connect available books with likely readers. People in my town might not buy something, and I would very gladly put a little effort into getting it to someone who would, rather than just throwing it away.

The only way to make this better would be if it were more like craigslist, in that it was people-to-people, rather than people-to-business-to-business-to-people. I would even be willing to turn these all into BookCrossings books, but this way they get to travel to new areas rather than just flooding the same town. Another option is Freecycle, but I personally think freecycle would be much more user-friendly if it were web-based like craigslist, rather than email-based.

Of course, another advantage over bookcrossings and freecycle is that BookProspector is a fundraiser for the library, too, which is always nice.

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4 Responses to “What To Do With Used Books”

  1. Liz Says:

    That never occurred to me–what typically happens to the books that don’t sell? Do they donate them to a charity, or put them on one of the sites mentioned, or (*shudder*) throw them away? Are librarians actually capable of disposing of readable books?

  2. Kate Says:

    Wow, that’s a lot of money from a booksale!

    I doubt Book Prospector would want our cast-offs (I can’t imagine anyone would – medical directory from 1969 anyone?), but I will have to check it out.

  3. herzogbr Says:

    Liz: I think there’s a lot of different things done with books that don’t sell, depending on the library – either they get donated to Goodwill, thrown away (hopefully recycled), saved for next year, passed off to other libraries, etc. But yeah, the sad truth is that libraries withdraw/discard readable books from the collection, as well as donated books, all the time – and too often, just on the basis of lack of space or low circulation.

    Kate: It’s hard to know what someone might want – we have people that take home all of our old discarded Value Line booklets – outdated financial data is kind of right up there with outdated medical information. But librarians can’t make judgments like that – “every book its reader,” you know. Besides, I don’t think BookProspector.com cares about judgments, either – if they think they can sell it, I’m sure they’ll try.

  4. Liz Says:

    Wow, that’s incredible–and sad. I’ve never been able to throw away/recycle a book in my life. It seems sacreligious or something somehow.

    And you never know what crazy book someone will think is great. Like your medical directory–someone who graduated from med school or started their practice in 1969 might love it. And anyone who has worked an antique market or a garage sale can attest that some people will pay good money for stuff you’d be ashamed to throw away at home.