By Karen Reilly
It’s January, and that means it’s New Year’s resolution time. Every year, library staff can tell that many patrons have resolved to tidy up their homes because a flood of donated books, CDs and DVDs washes into the library. But I’m not complaining. These donations are invaluable to our work.
Here’s what we do with your many donations.
First, I review them (yes, all of them!) to see what might be added to the library’s collection. Some titles are bestsellers, which still have a lengthy waiting list. I am always excited when we can add an additional copy of one of these and send it right out to an eagerly waiting reader. In other cases, we may have owned a title for a long time and our copy may be worn, dirty or damaged. Replacing that title with a donated copy, which has only been read once or twice, is a low-cost way to refresh our collection and provide our patrons with books in good condition.
Occasionally, we also receive a treasure that I deliver to San Diego Central Library’s California Room, which holds the library’s archival collection. A recent example: a big cardboard poster that showed all of the aircraft built by the San Diego company Consolidated Aircraft (which became Convair) from the 1920s through the 1960s. My apologies to those of you who saw it in my office and really wanted to take it home. But you and all San Diegans can now see it in the California Room on the ninth floor of the Central Library.
Finally, there are some donations which can go no further. Battered mass market paperbacks; books that are torn, dirty or water-damaged; magazines over a year old; and cassette and VHS tapes cannot be sold by our Friends (and they have tried!) or our secondary vendors (more about them soon). If you are thinking of donating these, you might want to save yourself the effort of packing them up and hauling them here. As much as we appreciate the thought, these items are simply going to end up in the trash or recycling — depending upon what they are made of.
Once I have reviewed everything, I pass the donations along to the Friends of the Mission Valley Library, who conduct their own review. They scan every book, DVD and CD for a local veteran-owned company called Operation Book Support, which identifies titles that have a high value on the secondary market. The titles they choose are often obscure, such as scholarly monographs, and are unlikely to sell in the Friends book sale. Operation Book Support sells these items online, and returns a significant percentage of the proceeds to the Friends.
The Friends then review the remainder of the donations for items they believe are likely to sell in the Friends book sale. This is the core of their work: selling books, audiobooks, DVDs and music CDs for an average price of $1 each, which brings in over $1,000 a month to support our materials, programming and equipment. With this money, we are able to offer many of our children’s programs, including baby sign language and Summer Reading Program events, and our OASIS adult lectures. This book sale funding also allows us to purchase new printers, chairs and tables, shelving, and many of our books. The Friends truly are a vital part of our operation.
Any materials that neither Operation Book Support nor the Friends want come back to me, and I pack them up and send them off to our secondary vendor, Better World Books. Better World Books is a nonprofit that collects books, audiobooks and DVDs from libraries around the country and sells some on various online platforms, donates others and recycles whatever simply cannot find a home. The Friends and the San Diego Public Library Foundation get a portion of the proceeds from these sales. It’s small, but that seems fair, as Better World Books pays for their own boxes and arranges and pays for shipping.
With luck, this has inspired you to take another look at your collection and ask yourself, “Could the Library use this?” Think how freeing it will feel to have room on your shelves, and to know that you are helping the library in the process.
—Karen Reilly is managing librarian of the Mission Valley Library.