Free books; or how to make 700 books disappear in 24 hours

As with many small libraries, one of our most persistent and haunting issues is dwindling space.  We recently realized that our backlog of donations was practically insurmountable and that we valued the space they were taking up more than the books themselves.  So, with a more critical eye than when the donations were first sorted, we quickly pulled approximately 700 books to get rid of – technically not weeding since the books were never in our collection.

Now, most libraries would probably host a book sale, but we don’t.  The reason we don’t is because of the way the library’s income is handled, particularly that we don’t keep any of it.  All of our fines, fees, etc. get put into the college’s general fund.  So, there’s not a monetary incentive for us to sell the books.  And we don’t like to manage cash anymore than we have to.

What we don’t make in money, we make up for in goodwill.  Since we always give out books for free, students (and faculty!) often see us handling the books as we are sorting and prepping them to give out and they are all over it.  They ask if they are ready to take, what kind of books they are, when we’re giving them out etc.  Inevitably, word gets around and by the end of the day we’re keeping the flood at bay while simultaneously managing the half a dozen dibs we’ve given because we’re too nice.

When are finally set up to give books out it’s game on.  We started out with approximately 700 books and within 4 hours about half were gone.  By the same time the next day we were down to about 30.  I’m not exaggerating when I say free books induce glee in the students.  So if you’ve got books you want to get rid of quickly while generating buzz for the library – give them away.

For me, one of the lasting lessons from this practice is that the aspect of ownership makes things exponentially more valuable.  As we like to joke when giving out books – “all of the library’s books are free“, but free can’t beat ownership.  We’re trying to tap into the principle of ownership concerning other aspects of the library, mainly space, but that’s a blog for another day.


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