Why the Library (Usually) Doesn’t Want Your Used Books

Do you plan on donating your genealogy books to a local library? Chances are, the library will refuse the donation. An article by Nick Douglas in the LifeHacker web site at http://bit.ly/2rR2Ej3 describes several reasons why.

I already knew some of the information in Nick Douglas’s article but I did learn some new information:

“Here’s What to Do With All Those Books

“Well, the library probably told you where else to donate them. You could make money (or store credit) by selling them to a used bookstore. Or, and this will shock you, you’re allowed to throw them out. ‘It’s part of the book circle of life!’ says Anderson.

“It might feel weird! Books are magic. But they’re also produced in mass quantities, and now they’re all digitized as well. If your book is at all rare, it’s selling for lots of money on Amazon and AbeBooks, and that’s where you should take it. Otherwise don’t worry, there are plenty of copies somewhere for anyone who wants to read them. If your library doesn’t have this book, suggest that they buy a copy. They’d rather have a new one from a vendor, honestly.”

In addition to the reasons mentioned by Nick Douglas, I will point out that most libraries already have a physical space problem. In fact, most libraries already throw away many books every year in order to make room for newer books that are far more likely to be requested by the library’s users! If a big-city library already covers a city block, just imagine how big an expansion the taxpayers would have to fund in order to store all the books that might be donated (most of which are probably duplicates of books the library already owns or can obtain via Inter Library Loan or as an electronic copy). In many cases, in order to house all the potential donations, the one-city-block library might have to be expanded to cover several city blocks! I doubt if the local taxpayers will pay for that.

I do suspect that a small library might welcome a donation of your genealogy books if the library doesn’t already have copies of the same books and if the books are not available via Inter Library Loan and if the books are not already available as electronic copies and if the library has a significant number of patrons who are interested in genealogy. However, I would always suggest asking the librarians first of their interest before you start boxing up the “donations.”

Yes, digitizing books whenever possible appears to still be the best solution for libraries. It saves space, reduces costs, and yet the information is always available upon a patron’s request.

20 Comments

Speaking as the staff member who curates the genealogy collection for the small library where I work, no, in general we don’t want them either. Again, we’d rather buy new. So, unless it’s been published within the last 2-3 years and is in MINT condition, please don’t donate it.
Our Friends of the Library group does take donations of good quality books (no Readers Digest Condensed, textbooks or National Geographic!!) and sells them to raise money in support of the library. That’s where we direct people – we peruse what they receive and will from time to time snag a few items.

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Actually, many libraries do want books if they have a volunteer group like Friends of the Library which has periodic book sales. They don’t want mildewed, moldy books, encyclopedias etc. But it is quite a money-maker if they have the volunteers to handle it. And the money goes right back into library purchases and activities. Dealers, collectors and readers looking for a bargain love these sales.

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I’m a Little Free Library steward and have had people take general how-to genealogy books and genealogy books related to my region. I wouldn’t put out anything more specific. Other LFL stewards might be interested in receiving these types of books.

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Family History Library of Salt Lake City is BUYING even the OLD family history / genealogy books, regardless of the conditions of the books if not in their collection already. They just acquired a few books that were so old and in somewhat fair condition. Even manuscripts. The Library is pestering some long time patrons to submit lists of books, manuscripts, etc, no question asked, so they can acquire them to expand further.
Contact Acquisitions Department, Family History Library. Call 1 801-240-6996, ask to transfer to Acquisitions department.

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The library in my home town was thrilled to get copies of year books from a local high school.

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Mary Zingerella, retired library director December 3, 2019 at 7:55 am

What a great article! I wish I had it to hand out to those who wondered why we weeded a book or why the donated books went to the book sale vs added to the collection. Should I mention the person returning a loooong lost book and expecting to receive her money back, she paid for it and it is in good condition and can go back in the collection?

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Don’t throw them away. Paper is recyclable. Remove the covers and recycle the pages.

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I’m going to put a plug in here for Internet Archive. It’s one of the best and easiest places I know to find old books, reports and other old stuff. I use it on a regular basis to get background information on places, organizations, activities etc. from old books that most libraries would have no reason to keep. There are even some old yearbooks and city directories.

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We have a metaphysical bookstore that includes a large used book section. One of the trends I’ve seen over the past few years is that there are now far more people who want to get rid of their books than there are people who want to buy used books. As I talk to our customers, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the “death of books”. Instead, it seems to be a demographic shift. It’s the Boomers downsizing.

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I donated my collection to my state genealogical society when they had a workshop. They put them on a table and all were gone in 1/2 hour!

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I donated some very old genealogy books to the local library with the mindset that the books would be put in a “museum” to show others how it used to be.
As for Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, see if your local hospice would like anything recent. I take my six yearly volumes to the local hospice here.

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Barbara R Shuman Pres St Cloud Friends of the Library December 3, 2019 at 10:30 am

If the local library has a Friend of the Library or other such auxillary group, PLEASE do donate. We sell them to people who welcome the chance to buy used books and provide funds for special library projects.

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    ‘Friends of the library’ Book Sale is a big event in my area, October is an extra special sale, $101,000. was earned this past year with smaller sales throughout the year at the branch libraries, proceeds provide extra programs for library patrons of all ages.

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Friends of the library groups are a great idea for donating used/old books. Also, check with local school libraries. Libraries are the first thing to get cut. When I worked at the local public library that was down the street from two public schools, their students were routinely coming in during school time with their teachers because the school libraries were bare.

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    Earlier in life, we moved a lot–all over the US. I learned that you can tell a great deal about a community by visiting its public library. How a town values its library is how it values its schools and much else.

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I once acquired the exact book I was looking for from a Friends of the Library sale. Maybe someone else will be happy to have my discards. I also recycle the pages of Advance Readers’ Copies—it’s the only way to get rid of them.
I do wish my local public library would devote less shelf space to ragged paperback romance novels. They have thousands.

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I had to downsize my personal library recently and members of a local Civil War chapter were thrilled with the 20 or so books I donated to them and a hard-bouned 36-volume set of the Confederate Veteran magazine went to the Jeff Davis library on the Gulf Coast. Thanks for the other sources you listed in the article also, as I have many more books that need homes. My parents instilled the importance of reading and I cringe at the thought of having to destroy books,

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If your library maintains a genealogy or local history collection, they are often happy to accept books that have pertinent information related to their specific area–ie, your family history book includes references to local families or pioneers, or includes information about the area. If they don’t collect this stuff, there might be an academic or special library in your state that is interested. Contact your local or state historical society, as they may have a library of their own that archives material of interest.

As a librarian myself, I’ve passed material that my library has accepted, but only because I know of their collection goals, ie some pristine books by local writers to replace worn or missing titles or brand new high demand titles. Most of my books go straight to the Friends for used book sales, but dated stuff, ie old computer manuals and textbooks, head to the recycle bin

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david Paul Davenport December 5, 2019 at 12:34 pm

I have a huge collection of census books published in 1830, 40, etc through 1920 (including the folios containing census maps for 1870, 1880, and 1890); Gazetteers for most states and regions published as early as 1823; and a considerable number of other 19th century imprints. It saddens me that I’ve been unable to find a library to take these. At some point I won’t be here and it seems likely that the public administrator will end up discarding these, some of which I paid $100 and more, in the 1980’s.

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The small library where I have a summer place has a history/genealogy room. I use the library’s WIFI all summer so I figure that I owe them something. I buy a genealogy book each year but I always ask the librarian in charge of that room if the book is wanted and appropriate. That way I get to read a book that I want and I don’t add clutter to my house and my son won’t have to throw them away when I die.

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