book stackLet’s talk about what to do with weeded library materials. If you’ve ever heard Mary and I speak at a conference or in a webinar, you’ve heard us harp on the idea that where discards end up is as important as what actually gets discarded. We have to discard responsibly for environmental reasons, public relations reasons, and even practical workflow reasons.

I’d love to hear from you all on what you do with your discarded materials and the process that they go through to get there. Here are some ideas:

  1. Friends of the Library. If your library has a Friends group, they may be willing to hold a used book sale for you. My library has an ongoing book sale that is available whenever the library is open. It is stocked mostly with public donations that the library can’t use, though. We are finding that a large portion of our weeded collection materials don’t make it to the book sale because they don’t have enough space to store them. We get so many good-condition donations that precious volunteer time has to be spent moving them through the system (because you all know that much of what is donated is not re-sellable, mostly for reasons of condition and age). We just don’t have the volunteer or staff manpower, or the space, to add to the Friends book sale. What a great problem to have, right?
  2. Better World Books. It takes time to pre-screen your discards to see what BWB wants you to send and what they don’t, but they pay for shipping and provide the boxes. We use Better World Book’s service for a large portion of our discards. BWB re-sells the materials and sends us a commission. I’ll be honest, we only made about $200 last year, but we feel good about re-use from an environmental and public relations standpoint.
  3. Prisons, VA hospitals, schools. Here’s another area that takes time. Prisons will only take very specific materials. VA hospitals do not pick up materials; you have to deliver them. Schools might come and get them, but identifying schools that need the materials takes some sleuthing.
  4. Resale shops. Salvation Army, Goodwill, Volunteers of America, etc. will often take donated books. They can’t take everything, but they’d be thrilled with some good-shape materials in most formats. Again, this takes time to box them up and deliver them. In my neck of the woods, Purple Heart will do pick-ups, so maybe some of these other organizations will too.
  5. Book drives. Google around and see if any groups are doing book drives in your area.
  6. Little Free Libraries. Find out if any LFL’s in your area could use some good-shape book donations. We’re going to start looking into this soon. We often weed extra copies of recent bestsellers as they become less popular, so we can provide Little Free Libraries around here with some very recent bestseller books that we just don’t need as many copies of in the library anymore.

I’d love to hear where else you send your discards, and how your discard process works. Do you struggle, as we do, with the amount of time, staff/volunteers, and boxes it takes to keep these materials moving out of the library? Our library is blessed with a collection that is in very good shape, across the board. Our librarians weed regularly, and we have a healthy materials budget for replacements and new titles. That means that we move quite a lot of very good condition books out of our collection, regularly. We weed more for lack of use and duplicates than for other reason. We aren’t weeding nearly as much for condition or age because we keep up with things really well around here. This is definitely not a complaint, but it does result in a lot of near-perfect-condition discards that need to go somewhere, and the Friends can’t take them all.


  1. Thank you for the shout-out to Little Free Libraries! I’ve gotten some great stuff for my LFL from my Library’s monthly sale of de-accessioned and donated books, but there’s always room for more.

  2. Holly, I buy most of my English-language books from Better World Books. They ship free of charge and as I live in Europe, that’s a hell of an advantage.
    Anyway, in the process I often get titles “No longer owned by… [fill in the name of your library]”, and I’m always surprised that American libraries discard so many popular fiction books so quickly. My own library (I’m a public librarian myself) simply keeps those until until they’re worn out — or at least until they are no longer circulating briskly but this usually takes a few years. Weeding within the year? I can’t imagine doing that (not that I ever did any weeding myself — I was mainly a cataloguer & working at the service desk).

    1. I work in a moderate-sized American library. With popular fiction, it’s standard for us to by 6-12 copies of a bestseller, to fill patron demand for it at release date. Thing is, after six months or a year, most of the holds have been filled for the item, our patrons have moved on to the next bestseller, and we certainly don’t have the shelf space for all six+ copies of every single bestseller! So, we weed all but (maybe) two copies. It’s a balancing act between needing to fill immediate demand, vs knowing that you’re buying so many copies of something that’s not going to be popular after a couple of months.

  3. I’m a children’s librarian, and since we happen to work with folks who also work at a local mission, some of our books in good condition that might still appeal to kids go to the mission through those folks. We also send some books to our nearby Dept. of Social Services office for their waiting room; since our library is also a county dept. we can send things through the county delivery system.

  4. I run a second-hand bookshop, not a library, but we’re only small and we also end up with a huge amount of books that we can’t sell.
    The vast majority go to a large charity bookshop. (As long as they are in good, saleable condition, of course. Anything too battered, with loose pages, etc, usually ends up in the recycle bin, although a local craft shop at one time took some for scrapbooking and similar projects.)
    Several sets of encyclopedias have gone to a local church’s overseas mission to Africa, while other books have gone to a halfway house for the homeless and even a battered women’s shelter.
    One occasion when I had a large amount of paperbacks that were too old / battered to give to our usual charity, they ended up on Facebook as a giveaway! Lol! Somebody snapped them up!
    There’s lots of places that love them. Forget Kindles, there is still a demand for ‘real’ books! 🙂

  5. Our Friends claim that discards never sell so they were throwing them all into the recycling bins, which led to patron complaints. Now everything gets sent to HQ to be recycled. Granted, most of it is in bad shape to begin with – like I recently discarded three books that someone obviously spilled grape juice or some other purple colored liquid on. (They were in Japanese too, which means they’ll be hard if not impossible to replace.)

    I wish patrons would understand that we just cannot keep books that are falling apart, water damaged, etc and stop getting mad about discards.

  6. Discards are one of my great frustrations.

    I am the director of a small public library in a very remote area of Canada. The collection is weeded regularly, and we receive 1,000+ donated items every year. Our Friends and volunteers run several sales annually, timed to take advantage of the tourist traffic. (In some areas, our population quadruples in the summertime.) We also donate items to other community groups.

    After all of that…we are still drowning in discards and sell-able – but unsold – donations. We don’t have the floor space to store them let alone the staff time to manage them. Taking the donations to any potential partner in the nearest town (and there aren’t many options available there, either) means driving 200 km round-trip…and gas costs money. In fact, BWB dropped us as a client on the grounds of high cross-border shipping costs. Any strategy with an on-going net cost to the Library is not viable.

    Should add: our municipality has no recycling program. Taking sell-able materials to the dump just feels wrong and always carries the risk of blow-back from the community.

    What I need is a literary guardian angel with deep pockets and a cube van!

    Any suggestions would be welcome.

    1. I think this is the crux of the problem, especially for smaller libraries with limited space, staff and budgets. I am waiting for the guardian angel as well. So much of this discard problem has to do with libraries not educating the public on the reality of space, staff cost, with respect to collection management.

  7. I don’t work in a library, but I am an artist and I use a lot of books as raw material, to get more use out of the material before it gets recycled. I know it is not the answer for all books, but those battered ones still have potential for the community, even as books to paint in or turn into paper mache rather than using new paper material.

  8. In addition to the worthy outlets in this blog post, our library — the Friends, actually — sends surplus to an outfit in Boston called More Than Words. It’s a nonprofit that helps youth who are in foster care, are homeless, or are court-involved, giving them life and job skills.

    The Library or the Friends also stocked a local Ronald McDonald House with books. And the Friends have sent books to the library in our Sister City — which are limited because they need to be in Spanish for the most part.

  9. I handle the discards at our Library. Like others have said..we are small and don’t have the room to keep all discards or donations. Some donations go into the collection if we need them, some go to the ongoing book sale. I fill the book sale shelves every day but I probably get rid of more than we sell. We also use Better World Books. It all depends on demographics, what your patrons will buy and condition. I don’t save health books because those get out of date quickly. I have been doing this for over 20 years and I pretty much know what will sell and what will not. We also do not have the shelf space to keep multiple copies and since we belong to a consortium, if we don’t have it, someone else will. It really can be a gerbil wheel at times.

  10. We put our discards on a sale cart. It amuses me when I pull a paperback in excellent condition because it’s rarely gone out, only to have someone snatch it from the sale cart right after I’ve put it out.

  11. One of our board members had a fairly ingenious idea, which our director ingeniously pushed out to the the staff who happily bought in and made it happen. We scheduled our big weeding night for the night before a day we are closed (Sunday) and then invited the community to the “Great Book Grab.” With over 5000 books available for grabbing, we were left with only 800 to dispose of at the end. There were literally lines around the block all day and we had the highest turn out for any library event ever. And we gave new homes to a huge number of old books, and we got in front of any possible negative press about throwing away books. It was a win all around!

  12. Dregs are dregs, and I found a local recycler that accepts books for free. Minimal prep–just removing mylar. Since I am–was! I just retired–a solo librarian, I did my own “final” removal to the recycler, maybe with a couple of volunteers. Discretion is necessary–don’t ever dump in your own dumpster! Off-site is much better!

  13. I am a nursing home resident and we beg for library book discards for our resident library as the topics are so vast. but we never get noticed or requests answered. so, the next time, your library or even a used bookstore or thrift store that have books, please keep a nursing home in mind. as the baby boomers are now starting to become residents in our facilities and keep their minds active with reading. thank you.

  14. I volunteer with the Friends at my library, and the library has an Outreach department that I know takes non-library books to an assortment of nursing homes, jails, group homes for teens, laundromats, and that sort of thing. I’m sure there are other places they go, but those are the ones I know of for sure.

    Our Friends have two sales a week in the library lobby, with 6 or 7 book carts full of books each time, and those are pretty popular. Then there are larger monthly sales, and the really big sales (we take over the largest meeting room) are 4 times a year. After those sales, I know someone comes from the area jails to get some of the leftovers, a couple of non-profit groups come in, and after the two children’s-only sales a year, we let teachers come in and take leftovers for their classrooms, along with non-profits or other groups.

    One of the things our Friends have done lately is start a Facebook page just for the Friends sales. I’m in charge of it (accidentally!) and post twice a week with a few pictures of the more interesting books going out, plus setting up “events” for the bigger sales. It seems to be doing well as far as publicity goes.

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