Where to Donate Old or Unwanted Books

Look to local schools and libraries, global organizations, and more when trying to give your favorite stories a new life.  

They say books hold the keys to another world, one full of imagination and new stories. And while it might feel like it would be impossible to have too many books, your bookshelf might beg to differ. Instead of tossing old or unwanted novels, find places to donate your old books instead. Not only will they get a second (or third, or fourth!) life, but they might also land in the hands of those who will cherish and benefit from them even more than you did.

Reader to Reader

Before exploring the best places to donate books, Danielle Mullen, PhD, proprietress at Semicolon Bookstore, explains that "the first rule is making sure that the books are in good reading condition—meaning not overly damaged physically [like with tears or broken spines] and without too many written notes inside." From there, make sure they are clean, dust- and stain-free, and also free of unpleasant smells. Once you've rounded up your favorite reads in good condition, take a look at these places to donate your books.

Donate to schools.

Once your little ones have moved on from picture books to novels, donate their old favorites to local schools or childcare centers. Sarah Kamya, the founder of Little Free Diverse Library (an organization that buys books for children and adults by Black, Indigenous, and people of color authors and ships them to Little Free Library locations), adds that this will be especially helpful in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. "There are still many students not back in the classroom, meaning they do not have access to all the books that they typically would have," she says. "Donating books to schools and emphasizing the importance of disseminating them to students who may not have access is important."

Kamya adds that what you're donating to schools is just as vital. Ask yourself these questions: Are they age appropriate? Do they reflect the school community? Do they amplify diverse voices? Thinking this all through will help make a difference in the lives of students beyond the classroom. "This may have you questioning all the books in your own library, but it's important as we move forward as a country [that] we work to amplify and empower others through literature," adds Kamya.

Look to libraries.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but before you donate any gently used reads to the library, consider contacting them first to see what they are looking for or currently accepting. Most local libraries also have Friends of the Library groups that host book sales which your donations can help support. "Little Free Libraries are extraordinary places to donate old books," Kamya notes, also sharing that the nonprofit's book-sharing boxes are free and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week in underserved communities. "You can find one by going to littlefreelibrary.org and using the map to search for libraries. Just by typing in your zip code, you can see what libraries are in or around your area."

Consider bookstores and second-hand stores.

Some bookstores accept donations—but do a Google search in advance to be sure—as Mullen explains that dropping unsolicited reads off then makes the store responsible for them. Community thrift stores or local Goodwill and Salvation Army branches will often happily accept book donations, too. Plus, you'll be sharing the gift of literacy and also helping support local job training programs and social aid efforts.

Give to other national and international organizations.

With thousands of drop-off sites across the United States and the United Kingdom, the e-retailer Better World Books not only collects and sells gently used books, but also matches every book purchase with a donation to someone in need. By teaming up with nonprofit literacy partners, like Room to Read and the National Center for Families Learning, they continue to help fund literacy efforts worldwide, while also being eco-conscious (like offsetting carbon costs of shipping books!).

Helping to provide free books to under-resourced communities, the Reader to Reader Inc. charity works with libraries and over 600 schools across the country to help you help those most in need. Plus, programs like its Read, Think, Share student mentorship program and Family Literacy programs for immigrant parents help get learners of all ages excited about reading. Have like-new children's books to get off your hands? Kids Need to Read, an Arizona-based foundation, will gladly collect them and pass them onto its many efforts to inspire, engage, and empower young readers. With literacy-powered events and programs nationwide, Kids Need the Read has helped provide over 672,000 books to 673 schools, libraries, and literacy programs in every state to date.

Supply new books.

For those dust-collecting duplicates sitting on your shelf to books you bought and just never got around to reading, various organizations—like Project Night Night, which helps create care-kits for homeless children and teens—will gladly accept any new reads. The Books for Kids Foundation also collects new children's books to help promote literacy among children in at-risk and low-income communities through library-building, reading programs, and more.

Contribute nontraditional items.

While most book-collecting organizations may accept a variety of books, many also tend to avoid items like magazines, textbooks, or encyclopedias. Instead, consider item-specific organizations like MagazineLiteracy.org, the first and only global magazine literacy campaign, or Textbook for Change which collects post-secondary textbooks and course packs to help campus libraries in East Africa. Have a hunch that your older books may even be rare (and valuable!)? Visit the American Library Association to learn how to tell, and what to do.

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