By Ove Overmyer
From time to time, library workers, book sellers and avid readers everywhere are confronted with the age-old conundrum of deciding what to do with older unwanted books that do not circulate or no one wants to buy or read. This is especially true after libraries hold their annual books sales-- and contemplate the next steps for those titles left on the shelves. Some library purists will tell you that every book should live forever; that’s not practical, nor is it true. In fact, there are plenty of good options for a book’s end of life. Every book has its own provenance-- and some are just doomed for failure at some point. Here are some insights on what might just happen to some everyday books that have lost their appeal or usefulness.
The rise of electronic books
It’s hard to talk about the demise of printed books without first mentioning the use of electronic books. With the advent of e-readers and devices that make it easy to carry a lot of books around, some readers have speculated that e-books will eventually kill printed books altogether. Not so fast! As a matter of fact, publishers large and small keep printing hardcover and paperback books-- and librarians and the general public have not stopped buying and devouring them. Recent studies indicate the printed book is going nowhere-- and small and large printers and publishers have no plans on slowing down production anytime soon.
Here are some facts. Nicholas Carr of The Wall Street Journal writes, “It's looking like traditional books are going to be around for a long while, and maybe forever.” He argues that e-books are probably best suited to complement traditional reading, rather than totally replacing it. Here's the biggest reason why: 59 percent of Americans have no interest in buying an e-book, according to a 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research.
Carr also assembled a bunch of other surveys that, taken together, show how the printed book isn't on its deathbed-- just yet anyway. So, as library collections are weeded and titles are de-accessioned, chances are that more books will be printed and bought to fill our library shelves and your retail bookstore. Studies also show that growth in e-books sales is slowing.
Book donations in the United States
Most public libraries in the United States accept gift books with the proviso that the library is free to decide whether to keep the book in the library's collection, put it in a book sale to raise funds for the library, or discard it if it proves to have no purpose or value. Persons seeking to donate books to libraries are encouraged to contact their local library and ask about the donation process first so reasonable expectations are matched.
Library workers also suggest contacting your state library. A public library or academic library in your area can supply the address and telephone number for your state library (often a toll-free call for in-state residents). Additionally, there are many private groups that distribute book donations -- but most only distribute new books. Donations of used books are not generally accepted by these organizations.
Book donations to countries overseas
There are several organizations that distribute books to other countries. Many of these organizations distribute books overseas at no cost to the donating person or library other than shipping costs to the U.S. facility. As an example, your local Rotarians are steeped in their mission to get new books and related materials into the hands of needy children around the world.
Other book donation programs
Many U.S. prisons, penal institutions and nonprofit entities are looking for book donations. The American Library Association (ALA) provides a Prisoner Resource List of groups accepting donated books for institutions all across the country. There's also a map and a full page of links to Other Books to Prisoners Programs available through the ALA. Some libraries have donation guidelines posted on their website; others you will need to contact by phone. Your local library can provide acceptable donation guidelines.
Remember, not all books have a resale value on the Internet; therefore, we encourage book donors to do their homework first and find out whether the materials are easy or difficult to sell before contacting their local library.
You may ask, “Can physical books serve any other purpose?” Well, all you would need to do is ask the artist living next door to you. An altered book is a form of mixed media artwork that changes a book from its original character into a different form, altering its appearance or its original meaning. Altered book art is becoming increasing popular these days and can fetch hefty sums in the marketplace.
Recycled books and library discards
Last but not least, some library books eventually end up at paper recycling centers and are processed into raw materials. Sadly, books that are selected for recycling have reached their end of life—only to be reincarnated. Many times old recycled books become new books or magazines, yielding eco-friendly materials that continue to inspire, educate and entertain audiences everywhere.
In conclusionThis article just scratches the surface addressing issues around accountability and proper handling of books nearing end of life-- and where those books might go to die. Truth be told, booksellers and library advocates everywhere make educated critical decisions daily to explore what options and best practices are available when considering where a book might go next. Rest assured, most library professionals are master stewards of taxpayer dollars and usually make the right decisions. Library patrons can do their part educating readers everywhere on proper end-of-life book handling by starting a conversation in their community today.