The best book people problem is just having too many books. I’ve got overflowing bookshelves, auxiliary backups, makeshift piles-as-crafty-tabletops, and a bunch of used books in boxes lining the garage, just waiting to be in their next new home. After all, books are for use. Libraries are the number one natural place to donate your used books, but there are other groups that need bookish love, too. So I asked friends, co-workers, and Rioters and compiled a list of alternative things to do with your used books.
Quick FYI: always call or email groups to make sure they’re accepting books before you drop them off. And if you have any particular religious, cultural, or profiting concerns (where your books are used, who gets the proceeds, etc.) read up on the group before you donate. And you can also check with Charity Navigator to see how a specific charity rates.
This list is not exhaustive! Please add your own suggestions, or book donation stories.
Give Back Locally
There are lots of great places in your community that may be looking for book donations, including:
- children’s hospitals
- community centers
- nursing homes
- homeless shelters
- day care centers
- retirement homes
- Boys & Girls clubs
If you’ve got a really great book or collection, contact local universities for their special collections/rare books departments. They can take donations in all sorts of subjects like literature, history, photography, philosophy- even stuff like comic books or old magazines.
Charitable Donations & Re-sellers
The groups that take your used books and donate or resell them to benefit a cause.
Better World Books – ALA
The American Library Association (ALA) really would prefer that you check with your local library first. But if that doesn’t pan out, you can mail your books directly to the ALA’s non-profit organization, Better World Books, with book sale proceeds benefiting United for Libraries, a division of the ALA dedicated to speaking out on behalf of library services and free public access to information. They’d also like to reassure that “non-saleable items will be made available to a nonprofit literacy partner or recycled in an environmentally responsible manner.” Check the list for donate-ables, then mail your books (postage paid!) to the address on their website.
Goodwill’s website confirms that by donating items like used books “you are helping Goodwill provide job training, education programs and community-based services to people in local communities every year.” Please check with your local store first though, as not all stores accept all items. Click here to find a store near you, and to calculate the impact of your generous donation.
The United Way has locations all over the world, and you can check with your local United Way about special used book donation drives. The United Way in Joplin, Mississippi started the Little Blue Bookshelf project, which places bookshelves stocked with gently-used or new books appropriate for children from birth through 3rd grade in communities for families and young children. Primarily, the project focuses on families experiencing stressful situations or crisis, and encourage children to visit the shelf and choose a community-donated book to keep and share.
Habitat for Humanity
Under the subheading Home Decor, most Habitat for Humanity ReStores accept used books (except textbooks and encyclopedias). ReStores are nonprofit home improvement stores/donation centers where you can go to purchase new and gently used furniture, home accessories, building materials, and appliances to the public at a fraction of the retail price. Plus, proceeds go towards building more homes.
Reader to Reader
Reader to Reader provides free, used books to under-resourced school and public libraries across the United States. To date, they’ve donated over 5,000,000 books to support 600 schools, libraries, shelters and other community groups. They’re looking for books for all ages, genres and interests, and also take books on CD. (That’s CD, not tape.)
Books for Soldiers
During the first Gulf War, the founder of Books for Soldiers (BFS) had friends stationed overseas in Iraq. This “voracious reader” with a closet full of paperbacks soon found that those friends had lots of downtime, and so began creating bookish care packages. Friends and family joined in the donation fun, and soon over 1000 books were shipped to the Gulf. BFS is now a nonprofit corporation that allows you to sign up as a volunteer on their website, browse through soldier book requests, and ship your used books directly to the troops. You can also organize your own ‘library’ and essentially be the drop-off point for local BFS donations.
Books for Africa
Books For Africa partners with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa to ship sea containers of about 22,000 donated books to rural school libraries, orphanages, adult literacy programs, and community resource centers. Books For Africa provides the donated books, and the recipient organizations in Africa pay the shipping costs and distribute the books as needed. Send your textbooks and library books, encyclopedia sets, atlases, and dictionaries directly to the Atlanta, GA shipping center, or drop them off in St. Paul, MN.
Please check the website for acceptable and non-acceptable books, and for delivery specifics.
Better World Books (no relation to ALA)
Better World Books was founded by two college guys sitting on a pile of old textbooks, who realized they could buy/sell books over the internet and make some cash, and use that cash to donate books to communities in need. The site has now collected over 15 million books and donated them back to communities and libraries, and raised 19 million for literacy programs and libraries, including Books for Africa, Room to Read, Worldfund, and the National Center for Families Learning. They take the donation process and make it user-friendly: you can go online and chose to donate directly to libraries, individuals, bookstores, or book drives. And there’s even a fun map showing all of the locations who benefit from Better World Books’ services.
Books To Prisoners (BTP) is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that sends free used books to prisoners across the United States. “By sending books to prisoners, we hope to foster a love of reading, to encourage the pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement, and to break the cycle of recidivism.”
Ok, as of June 2014, BTP has officially reached book donating capacity, and, aside from the most requested books, would love a generous cash donation instead. But their ‘most requested’ list is pretty extensive, so you’ve still got a good shot.
Prison Book Program notes that “most prisons do not allow family and friends to send books into prisons; they must come from a bookstore or publisher.” But they’re able to send books to several thousand prisoners every year, and accept donations from a wide range of genres and subjects. Click to learn where you can drop off or mail used books, and what kinds are ok to send. They also have a great list of other regional books to prisons programs.
LGBT Books to Prisoners, based out of Madison, WI, is an all volunteer-run sending books to LGBTQ-identified prisoners across the United States – for free. The group is primarily in need of monetary donations, and collects most of their books through locally owned & operated Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative (or via Amazon wishlists), but they do also accept donations of gently used softcover books. Check the website to contact the group via email if you’d like to make a donation.
If you live in the UK, Oxfam will take your donated books, including fiction and crime, art and history, children’s, academic texts, cookbooks and travel. Donate directly to their shops “or pop them into one of 300 book donation banks in Sainsbury’s car parks.”
Big Hearted Books & Clothing (formerly known as Got Books?) is a New England area group that collects your used books to donate to hospitals, schools, senior citizen centers, prisons, and troops. Big Hearted collects unwanted media, including books, records, CDs, video games, and DVDs all throughout New England, and redistributes them to people who can use them, and uses the additional revenue earned from the sale of clothing to help fund its book program. If you have 8 boxes of books or more you can contact the group to schedule a pick-up. You can also get a group together and host a neighborhood container donation; or you can drop them off at one of our collection containers.
And University at Buffalo Libraries’ subject librarian Pamela Rose keeps an excellent, frequently updated list of international nonprofits and community organizations in need of book donations, where to send them, and what they’re looking for. The list posts book requests specifically for groups that lack funding to advertise their needs.
If you are an author, own the copyright to your book, and happen to have lots of copies sitting around-I feel for you. But you can give back and donate your book to Wikibooks, and broaden Wikireaders’ horizons. (I just stumbled across this one, as the heading confirms, randomly, but it really intrigued me.)
Fun With Used Books!
Go to Bookmooch to give away books you no longer want, and replace them with books from your TBR list. You can even request books from other countries, and in other languages! Get points from giving books, and use them to get more books, or donate the coins to Bookmooch’s charities. Keep your Bookmooch books forever, or send them back out into the Bookmooch reading community. The site is free, and the only cost is postage for sending away your books.
Make some beautiful bookish art. Perfect for holiday gifts, or as a stand-in for a more traditional tree.
And finally, since it’s still The Season and gift-buying is in full swing (we’re anxiously awaiting gifts from the Holiday Armadillo over at Book Riot), you can sign up for AmazonSmile, which donates 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the nonprofit charity of your choice – there are over one million eligible 501(c)(3) public charitable organizations to pick from.
Just remember to get your used book donations ready for Boxing Day.