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10 Ways to Give Weeded Books a Second Life

book purse

hollowed-out book

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1.  Send them to Better World Books, a for-profit social enterprise that collects used books and sells them online to raise money for literacy initiatives worldwide. They have both a library discards and book recyclers program.

2. Put them on your library’s free cart or bookcase. Though the contents may be outdated, their images, designs and typography are often of value to creative minds.

3. Sell them at your library’s annual or continuous book sale.

4. Post them to your local freecycle network.

5. Send them to prison. Listings of programs that make book donations to prisons and prisoners are available on ALA’s Book Donation Programs Fact Sheet, and from the ALA Library and the Prison Book Program.

6. Check with preschools, literacy groups, senior centers, and other local nonprofits to inquire if they may want them. Children’s books and Spanish materials are often especially appreciated.

7. Connect with Berkeley-based artist Jim Rosenau, who turns hardback books with interesting titles, colors, and textures on their spine into attractive bookshelves and more that he offers through his This Into That website.

8. Have your library’s craft group turn them into beautiful one-of-a-kind book purses. Directions can be found at HGTV, Ehow and Wikihow.

9. Raise funds for green programming with them. Create and then sell hollow books for hiding spare keys, secret notes, money or other valuable treasures. Hollow books can be made using a simple razor or an oscillating tool.

10. Challenge local high school, community college, or art school students to come up with new ideas for recycling weeded books. Award a prize for the best idea. Create a library display with the submitted entries and create some great PR buzz for your library at the same time.


The Book Thing of Baltimore

An organization in Baltimore which accepts any books donated to it and redistributes them to local teachers for their classrooms, local library in need, organizations setting up libraries and schools oversees and any individual who wanders in and wants them.  I volunteered there for several months after college before having to move for a job, so I can personally attest that they are a wonderful organization, getting books into hands which otherwise wouldn’t be able to have books.  And they accept anything sent to them, from an individual book dropped off at the site to 17 foot long trucks packed to the brim with boxes full of books.


I am pretty freshly out of library school and we learned that if we have weeded a book for some of the common reasons like: inaccuracies or out of date information these books should not be passed on to anyone.  I too dislike the idea of books going to waste, but if a book is not good enough to be retained in our libraries why should it be passed to others who might be influenced by incorrect or old information. 

weeded books

We have struggled with what to do with weeded material (mostly books) and donated material (mostly books).  It is hard for our staff to throw out a book or say "no thanks" to people wanting to donate books but that is what we are starting to do.  We have tried Better World Books and found that we were spending too much valuable staff time for very little return.  Better World Books did not want even 1% of our discarded tittles.  The same holds true with the boxes and bags full of donated books.  The cost of staff time it takes to sort out the "keepers" from the "non-keepers" is prohibitive.  It is much more cost effective for us to buy new material than sort through the donations to find something we may need for our collection.  We don’t have room to store these donations until they can be dealt with and we don’t have shelf space or cart space to offer them for free.  In short, we have tried most of the ideas listed in Laura’s blog but we will look into #5 (prison donations) and #8 & 9 (activities for our teens).  We don’t have a #4 - although maybe we should start one?  Mostly though, our greenest choice is recycling. 

weeded books

In the small public library where I and another retired librarian volunteer, we sort through the donated books, create a for sale section in the library, pass some donations to the local service center or senior center, or drop off at Got Books.  I agree that it is not worth paid staff time to sort through donations so perhaps you could try to recruit volunteers to do this for you—particularly retired librarians or trustees.  

Some libraries are not allowed to sell weeded books

State law in my state prohibits libraries from selling weeded books because they are regarded public property.  It’s too bad, because a lot of people elsewhere could probably make good use of them.