Give Your Old Books A New Home
We all outgrow our books eventually, especially when we’re kids. It’s a wonderful thing to watch young readers grow from picture books to easy readers to chapter books and beyond...but what happens to all those books they leave behind? What can you do with your kids’ books once they’ve outgrown them? We have a few environmentally-friendly and socially-conscientious ideas for how you can donate your gently used children’s books!
What Kind of Children’s Books to Donate
There are a couple of important things to keep in mind whenever you’re passing on children’s books - namely condition and relevance.
Ultimately the most important thing to keep in mind when you’re rehoming your books is the condition that the books are in. You’ll likely see and hear the phrase “gently used books,” whether you’re donating or selling. And while that will apply to everything from children’s books to adult nonfiction, it is especially relevant for children’s books.
Imagine that you are the person picking up one of these books to buy for your kids. Ask yourself if you would spend money on this book, if you saw it on a shelf somewhere. Is the spine cracked, is the cover bent or otherwise damaged? Is there writing inside the book that obscures the text or pictures? Does it smell musty? If you answered yes to any of those questions, your books are probably not considered “gently used” and you may not be able to donate or resell them.
Some books—particularly children’s books—are classics. Books like Where the Wild Things Are and The Very Hungry Caterpillar that have stood the test of time are always relevant. But some books, even popular ones, are a time capsule to a specific place or time and experience, and may not be relevant to a wider audience.
Books about timely topics and experiences may not be the best material for donating; alternatively, books that have since become outdated may also not be suitable. Ask yourself if your kids would be interested in reading this book today, or if it would even be applicable to them today, before choosing a book for donation.
Where to Donate Children’s Books
Once you’ve identified which of your books are good to donate, it’s time to figure out where to send them! Many organizations to donate books to are run on community-based levels and the specifics will vary based on where you live. Definitely check out local organizations in your area to see what specific requests, guidelines, or donation procedures they have in place!
1. Elementary Schools & Educators
Teachers—especially elementary school teachers—are always looking for books for classroom libraries and activities! Reach out to your local school district (or local library!) to see if they have a system in place for accepting book donations or putting you directly in touch with teachers or organizations looking for books.
2. Community Centers
A lot of listicles that suggest book donation outlets suggest libraries. Maybe your local library accepts donations, and of course it’s worth finding out, but in my experience many libraries wind up turning away book donations. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other places in your community that may be open to—and in fact very much in want of—book donations!
Also, check in with your local indie bookstores. While they probably do not accept donations, they may have a list of local resources or organizations to pass along, including the best ways to get in touch with any of these organizations.
Hospitals and Medical Centers
Your local medical centers—everything from hospitals to long-term care facilities to urgent care and standard out-patient doctors’ offices—may be receptive to book donations, especially children’s books. Keep in mind that presently, because of COVID-19 health and safety restrictions, hospitals in particular might have stricter guidelines for accepting used goods.
Reading material for all ages, but especially kids, can be a wonderful and often-overlooked way to contribute to local shelters. Women & Children shelters, Homeless shelters, Transitional & Halfway housing, etc.—may be receptive to accepting book donations! Keep in mind that they may have content guidelines or restrictions for what they can and will accept, so be sure to check in with your local centers.
Community Centers & Donation Centers
Of course, there are plenty of other types of community centers you can reach out to as well. Check in with your local YMCA or Boys & Girls Club, for example. Try your local Senior and Assisted Living Centers—children’s books aren’t just for kids, after all, whether the residents themselves are interested or they want something to read with visiting grandchildren.
Speaking of assisted living centers and other medically-adjacent organizations—reach out to your local animal shelter, especially with picture books and books for very young readers. Ask them if they have any programs with therapy animals that could use children’s books (yes, really). There are organizations out there that pair volunteer readers with abused animals for gentle reading time, and there are also places that pair public storytime events with therapy dogs.
Maybe you’re looking to find a good home for more than just the books your kids have outgrown. Many of the options listed above If you’re in the market to thin out your family’s library in general (we all need the occasional declutter!), keep in mind that many local donation centers and thrift stores will also accept books! Check in with your local Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or thrift shop to see if they’re accepting book donations!
3. Little Free Libraries
Have you ever seen a Little Free Library? They’re amazing, and we love seeing more and more of these lending libraries popping up as communities look for ways to ensure everyone has access to books!
If you’re not familiar, Little Free Libraries are...little libraries. That holds books. For free!
Lulu Junior sponsors our own Little Free Library at Read With Me in Raleigh!
Anyone can become a “librarian,” hosting a small outdoor “library” shelter on their property, accessible to the local community. Everyone is invited to take a book, borrow a book, or leave a book, building the library as a community-wide resource!
If you want to find a Little Free Library near you that might be looking for some new book content, check out the Little Free Library map here. Or hey, if you have enough books (and space) and think you’d like to start your own library, you can learn more about doing that here!
Don’t Be Afraid to Recycle Your Books
Books are, in the immortal words of Stephen King, “a uniquely portable magic.” But the true magic of any book isn’t the paper and the ink and the binding; it’s feelings felt and lessons learned and memories made from the time you and your family spend reading that book.
I’ll let you in on a secret—the publishing industry disposes of hundreds of thousands of books every year. Books with print errors, unsold books, outdated editions, review editions (ARCs), damaged books. In fact, that’s one of the biggest benefits of print-on-demand publishing—it’s way more environmentally friendly and way less wasteful than traditional publishing. Sometimes you do your best to find good homes for those extra books, but sometimes you’re still left with extra, unwanted, or outgrown books despite your best efforts.
Books are generally recyclable. They are, and it’s okay to do so. Paperback books are usually recyclable as-is, along with the rest of your paper recyclables. Hardcover books are slightly more difficult—the cover and binding usually aren’t recyclable, so you would have to separate the interior pages from the binding and just recycle those—check with your local waste management site to find out their specifics about recycling books. And think of it this way—maybe, if you’re lucky, that recycled paper will get pulped, turned into new paper, and printed into a new book. Maybe even your new favorite book.
No matter how you rehome your old books, donating them to local individuals or organizations is a wonderful way to pass along the joy of reading. Share the stories that defined you with the next generation of readers and foster a love of those books for years to come!