Wednesday, August 8, 2007

When you have to (shudder) downsize your book collection.

As much as you may love your books, there could come a day when (horrors!) you have to downsize, move or face the inevitable - your house is being overtaken by books. When you've found every way you can to help disguise the piles - and, believe me, I know a LOT of tricks for storing books - and still find yourself falling over stacks of books, it may be time to start culling the piles. This is a painful job, one I always resist, but eventually have to face, usually after getting flack from my family.

Of course, you are then faced with a dilemna -keep some, of course, but what about the others? Do you sell them or donate them? How do you know what to do?
Here's what I'd suggest:

Step One: Separate the piles into the ones you know are keepers, whether it is because you find yourself rereading the books again and again or because you have a childhood favorite that you want to share with other children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc.

Step Two: If you aren't altruistic enough to give away the ones you don't want or have outgrown (yes, tastes in books can - and do - change, evolve and grow.
Find out what your books are truly worth. Be realistic. Look at prices at various sites, from Amazon to Ebay. See what the books sell for and be sure to compare apples to apples. In other words, if your book is a signed first edition with dustjacket, don't compare it to a first edition without dustjacket, unsigned. The detaƮls make a difference. Condition counts.

Step Three: If you think it is worth your time and energy to list the books and you need the extra bucks, list them on Amazon or Ebay or another site or consider using a listing service (although they'll take a commission, so I'd be sure the book is worth it).
You can also sell them to a reputable dealer, someone who cares about books and who'll do his or her best to make sure they get maximum visibility and a good home. I happen to prefer local dealers but plenty of people sell to those out of state as well, as many dealers will happily travel to see a large collection of books.

Step Four: Finally, realize that some books are simply worth very little in today's market. Keep the ones that have sentimental value to you or that you are likely to TRULY want to reread (review Step One, above). For those that aren't worth much, financially or sentimentally, consider these options for donating them:

1. Freecyle or Paperback Exchange. If you aren't familiar with Freecycle, the concept is simple. You can list or offer anything but it has to be freely given, no money. To find the closest group, go to http:/

2. Consider donating to a homeless shelter, school library (some are very underfunded or in areas with limited budgets) or Center for Domestic Abuse. Contrary to the stereotypes, many of the people in shelters are not only literate, but eager to read. Some may have mental illnesses or disabilities that affect their work and finances but being homeless does NOT equate to being stupid. Donate and feel good that you may provide solace for people who are hungry for knowledge. A good book might even provide some inspiration and comfort when they need it most. Help comes in all forms.

3. Have a sale and donate the proceeds to a pet cause or scholarship fund. One of my favorite things to do is use the sale proceeds to help fund field trips for children whose families can't afford to pay for the trips - or else to help pay for back to school supplies and clothes for a needy child.

4. Consider leaving some in a doctor's office or local coffee house, with a note letting people know the books are free. If you'd like, you can include a brief bit of info about the book, why you liked it, etc. I'll occasionally leave a book in a mall or coffee shop and have actually see people pick them up and put them in their shopping bags, delighted and surprised by the special find.

Finally, and this is just my personal bias, I DO believe there are some books which aren't worth saving or donating. The annual Tax Prep that is out of date almost as soon as the next edition arrives, textbooks with incorrect info and maps. You aren't doing anyone a favor by passing on obsolete info, unless they collect those books or use them for research. So think about that. Know your "target donee".

I'd like to hear your opinions about how you handle your book collection and what you do when they threaten to take over the house! :)


Anonymous said...

Our apartment complex has an open community library where people can leave and take books at will. Some come back and some don't We have well over 2,000 books (mostly novels). I am fairly sure of the number because my kids and I just spent several hours shelving them by author.

This is a wonderful way to freecycle your books on a local level.

Laurie said...

There is an online service/group called Bookcrossing that calls itself a 'free, online book club' -- they have a system wherein you register a book, then 'release it into the wild'. People who find books can then log the book in (they're given a number) and write reviews, etc.

You can also 'hunt' books -- after they're placed, you log the book where it's been 'released' and people can go out and find them.