I Am GIVING You This Book!

Aren't you going to thank me?

I'm sure there's a post to be written about self-published and local authors who donate their books to the collection and then try to micro-manage them, but I don't get a lot of those, so I'll leave that to the experts. What I want to talk about today is the run-of-the mill box or paper bag of donations. What usually happens at my library is that someone calls up in advance:

Patron: "I have/my daughter/my husband has a huge HUGE stack of books and I want to get rid of them."
Librarian, nervous about potential overflow and difficulty of getting them in from the parking lot: "How many, can you guess?"
Patron: "Like TWO whole boxes!!!"
Librarian, relieved: "Sure, we can probably manage that."
Patron: "And is there also somewhere I can sell my 1978 encyclopedia?"
Librarian: *sigh*

The corollary to this interchange is the Will You Appraise My Books for Me call, but let's not stray down that path today, tempting as it may be. The donations we get usually aren't in huge amounts, and we don't have a yearly book sale (more's the pity), so the process here is pretty straightforward. My supervisor goes through the wheat and puts the chaff on the giveaway shelf straightaway, and then individual selectors like me evaluate the remaining pile and decide what to add to the collection and what to pass on to the hungry public. In my library, everything put on the giveaway shelf is snapped up, even if it's a tax guide from 2001 or some ancient VHS tape being discarded for lack of circulation.

Although I would love to be welcoming and accept all donations as new books in the collection, at some point in library school they taught me that donations aren't actually free for the library. The books that I add to the collection have to be handled by my supervisor, and then by me, and then sent to Tech Services to get labeled and bar coded and actually attached to a record. Since I deal with mass-market paperbacks, which aren't that expensive to start with (especially after a library discount), I try to be very careful about what I add to my collection. If it's in terrible shape and wouldn't stand up to more than a few circulations, I'm not adding it. If it's already on the shelf and the copy has fewer than 20 circulations, I'm probably not going to add it. If it's the middle of a series and I don't have the rest of them, I'm definitely not adding it.

What I do add are books guaranteed to circulate in my library, like a Debbie Macomber or a J.R. Ward or Christine Feehan; any urban fiction that miraculously appears on my cart; replacements for missing or billed items, especially in popular series; and Harlequin romance novels that I'm not going to actually buy, despite tweeting about their plots every month. In other words, most of the donations that come in that aren't romance novels (with a few exceptions) are headed straight for the free shelf. Some of them, I confess, end up coming home with me. But only after passing the rigorous tests that I apply! And if I do add a book I want to read to the collection, I know just where to find it on the shelf...

How does your library handle donations?


The majority of our donations are sold by the branches on their Friends of the Library shelves. The books we do add must be in pristine condition.

I used to be more open to adding donations to the system, but -- as you point out -- they really aren't "free." Also I was getting hammered by branches that were sending me gems like Vanna White's biography.
Thanks for this post! I've always wondered how donations were handled.
Helgagrace said…
Well, just my library's way of handling them, but thanks!
robin said…
Donations are handled differently at each location, I suspect. I'm sure there is a "systemwide" policy, but like most things, it is followed up until it isn't anymore. Most donations are given to our library group for booksale. Branches can sell fiction at their locations, but non fiction is supposed to be forwarded to the store (Secondhand Prose) for the general sales. Honestly, a majority of the fiction gets sent there as well. I go in and select books to add to the collection following most of the criteria you have already listed. Although, because I can spread them out among many branches, I may be a little less strict. I have found some gems there, definitely, but it takes a lot of time to go through the books to get to those gems.
Sometimes, branch librarians will send me donations they've received that they feel especially strong about adding to the collection.
My favorite thing is when I get a donation for a book that is in great condition, has high circ and/or is out of print. Like the holy grail of book donations.
Mary Kelly said…
Donations can be a black hole though if you have hoarders on staff. You walk a delicate line with patron feelings and utter crap.

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