Where do books go when they die?

I’ve gotten in the habit of donating some of the books I doubt I’ll read again to the library every year. This means I part ways with at least 20 books every year and it helps keep my home library more manageable. (Ha! No it doesn’t. I seriously have no more room for books, but believe me this won’t stop me from acquiring more.) When I first got into this form of giving, I’d done it with the hope that my immaculately kept books would make it on the shelf so someone else could love them – so they library wouldn’t have to shell out money to put them on their shelves, but when I handed them over to the librarian that first time, they told me they’d be sold in the book sale because the library has no other way to make money. I didn’t love this, but I understand they need money to keep their doors open and I’m all for libraries sticking around.

 

Yesterday I was dropping off some books for donation and happened to notice one of their book sales actually going on so I checked it out. I walked into a room with rows and rows of books and my heart sank. Paperbacks went for $.25, hardbacks for $.50. And that’s just for the first few days. On the last day, you can bring a bag in and whatever you can fit inside will cost you $5. How can the library consider this making money when they’re practically giving the books away?

 

But this revelation wasn’t actually the thing that hurt my heart the most. No, it was the fact that most of the books were library bound (not donated), pulled straight off the shelves for sale. And these weren’t old, outdated, battered books. Theses were books released within the last year. Books by some of my favorite authors. Books on the NYT Bestsellers list. Books with Printz awards. Just HOW? Who made the decision to pull these titles from the racks? How could any of them qualify as books to practically be given away?

 

I found myself so torn as I scanned the shelves, finding books from my own Amazon wishlist sitting there in nearly immaculate condition, that could be mine for just $.50, and I couldn’t buy them. I just couldn’t accept that as their worth. And at the same time, beside me a young girl picked up a book I’ve read and loved and begged her mom for $.50 so she could buy it and I suddenly wanted to give her the $.50 myself because what if this girl couldn’t afford the full price of the book  and it would never be hers were it not for this sale?

 

I was feeling some kind of way and I couldn’t exactly pin down what it was, but it wasn’t good.

 

As I made my way back through the doors, I glanced back at the still full room, knowing the sale ended today, and wondered where all the books that weren’t good enough for the shelves and hadn’t been bought at their ridiculously low price go when the book sale ends. Where do unwanted books go? I can only pray they keep them for the next book sale. That they hold onto hope that someone else might come through and realize the gem that was overlooked the last time.

 

So much about this feels wrong to me and I want further understanding. Are there any librarians out there who are familiar with this procedure? Do you know where books go when they die?

 

EDIT/UPDATE 2/23/14

 

I cross-posted this blog on my tumblr last night and received several well-informed explanations to my unease about libraries book sales and donations. For anyone who may have only seen this post here and was equally as curious as me, below are some of the more detailed replies from wise tumblr folk.

 

From Le Ciel tumultueux:

 

Just a few different things to consider:

 

1. Some libraries buy multiple copies of bestsellers so patrons don’t sit on a wait list for months to read that new James Patterson. Eventually, the list dies down and that shelf space could go to new materials. This means the books have to be pulled!

 

2. Some libraries sell their discarded books at sales. This is great for community members, as well as organizations that need resources at a low price. Some teachers just don’t have the funds to collect books for their classrooms and they can get a bunch for a low price at these sales.

 

3. Some libraries throw out their discards. This might seem scary, but there are policies being followed. Books that are moldy need to go in the dumpster! They can spread to other books and ruin them. Other books might look brand new, like travel guides, but no one is going to benefit from a 2006 travel guide to Cancun. Most of the information will be inaccurate. Other books might look brand new because no one has ever checked them out! Librarians check stats to see how often the book has gone out. A book that has circulated only once in 10 years could be hogging valuable shelf space for a better used book, or space that might go to an extra computer for community members to use!

 

4. Some libraries send their books to organizations like Better World Books, where they can resell decent quality books and use some of the profits to donate books to literacy programs. However, sending books out-of-house to companies or charities requires extra staff time and sometimes money.

 

The bottom line is it varies from library to library, and the librarians are following a plan. I PROMISE. Even if you see books in a dumpster, lots of thought has gone into that decision. They’re doing this to benefit the people who use the library. I’m sure your library would be happy to explain their weeding policy to you!

 

 

From The [G]normadic Librarian:

 

This is an excellent explanation. Also, some libraries will donate books to shelters and daycare centers that can’t necessarily afford to buy books for their clients.

 

But I also want to address your concern about not being able to accept $.50 as the book’s worth. It isn’t, and that’s not what libraries are proposing. Books are expensive, and libraries pay a hefty amount in book costs every year. The author and their publishers and whoever else is in that line of pay get their fair share (arguably).

 

The point of these booksales isn’t to necessarily sell the books for what they’re worth. It is to 1. Get the extra books off the shelf to make space for new, free-to-the-public books, 2. Rake in a few extra donations for the library, and 3. To allow people to buy books and take them home permanently, that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to buy. And to me, these points are far more important than the books supposed “worth.” This allows them to have a worth that exceeds monetary value. Like you mentioned, that child you saw wanting that book that you so loved, may not have been able to afford it from Barnes and Noble, and would have missed out on experiencing it like you did. This is what defines the book’s worth, the experiences and love that it can provide, not the $20 price sticker plastered on the front cover. It is arguably more important to simply read the book than to prove that you paid full price for it.

 

Like Neil Gaiman said, “Don’t ever apologize to an author for buying something in paperback, or taking it out from a library (that’s what they’re there for. Use your library). Don’t apologize to this author for buying books second hand, or getting them from bookcrossing, or borrowing a friend’s copy. What’s important to me is that people read the books, and enjoy them, and that, at some point in there, the book was bought by someone. And that people who like things, tell other people. The most important thing is that people read…”

 

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2 Responses to "Where do books go when they die?"

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  1. Heather Holden

    February 22, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    My library has a section to sell books 24/7, so I don’t know what your library does after those special book sales end. As for the library-bound books that end up in the sale, too, that happens when no one checks out the book after a certain length of time. They sell them to free up space for other books that people will want to check out…

    • Sarah

      February 23, 2014 at 10:26 am

      Your points were brought up by several librarians on tumblr (I’ve updated the post to show their explanations). I guess it just really shocked me to see books by big names that had just been released within the last year. That seems awfully fast to pull them from the shelf (unless they were just overstock like some people suggested). I do have a better understanding as to how the process all goes down now. Still don’t feel great about knowing some books just do fade away, but I trust these people know what they’re doing.

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