Mary in the Library: Book Donations

I've talked about what I do in the library and what goes on behind the scenes of a book signing, but wanting some more inspiration for Mary in the Library, I took to Twitter to get an idea of what you guys want to know about life in a library. Today's question comes from Jaylee James

This is a very common question, but the answer is going to vary from library to library depending on system policies so I can only tell you what MY library does with donations. On paper, here's our official policy:

If you notice, it says in the very first sentence that "gently used" donations will "possibly" be added to the collection. A lot of people assume everything they donate will be available in the collection immediately. That's not how it works, and no matter what library you use, you should NEVER assume that's going to happen. Check the second paragraph. Reasons your item might not be added to the collection include "condition, need, or the item not falling within the collection development guidelines." Basically, the item might not be in the physical condition we require, we might not need a copy (Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, and Harry Potter and other movie adaptations are probably automatically not going to be added because the library already has a ton of copies), OR based on the selector of that collection, it might be turned down for another reason. Plus, most libraries receive a LOT of donations. Not everything can be added simply because there isn't enough space.

This is our donation station & it looks like this ALL. THE. TIME.

What is a selector? A selector is the person "in charge" of a particular area of the total collection. For instance, there are two of us at my branch who are in charge of the YA collection. My boss is the official selector, but she's so busy with higher job duties that many of the aspects of maintaining the collection have fallen to me. The other day someone donated about five of the House of Night books along with three Mortal Instruments books. They were all in decent collection, but none of them can be added to our collection. Why? We already have a ton of copies. 

This is a screenshot taken directly from our catalog page. The numbers on the right indicate how many of each item we have in the collection. While that number also includes any items that have been lost or withdrawn, we still have plenty, as you can see. This also doesn't include ebooks or audiobooks. 

However, Shadowhunters is picking up steam and maybe new fans are finding their way to the books through the show or because they have seen ads for Lady Midnight. So we decided to keep them to use for something else.

In comparison, House of Night is a 12 book series (with a few extras), and the final book came out two years ago. There is also no reason to add more copies to our collection. At this point, we probably need to start weeding out the extras. I withdrew a damaged copy just yesterday, and if we had needed to replace it, I might have used one of the donated copies, but at this point, it's redundant. While HoN is a bestselling series, vampire books have been on the decline for years.

Meanwhile, the other day a patron came in with an audiobook he'd been given for Christmas. It was by a popular author of adult fiction that even I could recognize as a major player with our patrons. I checked the catalog, and while we own many of this author's books (including this one), we didn't own a physical audiobook of this particular title. So I took it directly to the librarian in charge of the adult collection. She was thrilled to have it, and I'm betting in a couple weeks, that audiobook will be on our shelves after it has been processed.

So what will we do with the Mortal Instruments books we kept? What about the House of Night books we didn't? We have a staff member whose job it is to go through all the donations and keep them organized. Some he tosses immediately because of quality or item (VHS and cassette tapes do not make the cut, ever). Some, he gives to the selectors (like the books in question), and some he earmarks for sale. House of Night, along with any that he has already set aside, will go on to our Friends of the Library, who will sell it either in one of their large warehouse sales, at a cart sale they hold at our branch or another once a month, or go on a cart we keep at our location. This upsets people because they want to "support the library" better. Honestly, don't be upset if you find out your items went to the Friends, especially our Friends. They do a great deal for us, both financially and physically. Our Friends are the ones who finance programs like summer reading or purchase equipment and furniture. They often help us at author signings. They have provided amazing support for the North Texas Teen Book Festival, again through funding and volunteers. If your items go to the Friends, they WILL support the library, just in a different way.

Carts full of books for our monthly Friends sale last week.

As for the TMI books that our teens may want, they will actually go downstairs in our basement to a series of shelves full of YA books of all types. We have arcs, hardcovers, paperbacks, manga. Some are signed, even. What do we do with them? We save them. Hoard them like Scrooge McDuck and his vault of gold. And each summer and occasionally throughout the school year, we use them as prizes. 

I live in a city in the DFW metroplex, and it's not one of the particularly wealthy cities in the area. We're lucky that our city maintains an excellent library system and supports NTTBF, but the families and individuals who use the library need us for very basic resources. Computer access, because they don't have internet at home. Help printing out resumes, help with job searches, ESL classes, literacy classes, basic Microsoft Word and internet classes. We participate in a snack program in the summer because local kids don't have access to subsidized school food during those months. So for us to reward kids and adults for reading with books they can take home and keep or sell or whatever they want is a huge deal. And not only do they get to to take a book home, they get to pick it out themselves, out of a massive shelf of really freaking good titles. They love arcs because, hello early books, and they also love signed books. 

One of the reasons NTTBF was created and why author events are so strong in my library is because it's a special experience for our community. Authors and signed books mean something extraordinary to our teens and tweens. They're celebrities, but attainable and real celebrities. Yes, they will also fawn over anyone who comes in town for Comic Con or concerts, but they don't always have the funds for those events. Author events are free. The books we give them during the summer are free. It may sound like a MasterCard commercial, but the feelings that they get from these books are priceless.

Once again, this is just MY library. If you want to know what happens to book donations at YOUR library, check their website or just ask a staff member. I worry the general public is afraid their library staff will bite. Even if the little old lady behind the desk looks like she belongs in Monster's University,

I promise we won't throw you through the window if you ask a question. And don't apologize for asking or for "interrupting" or "bothering" the staff. You're not. The library is providing a public service. It's literally our job to help you and answer your questions. :)

Have a question about life in the library? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Ooooh!! Thank you so so much for the detailed response! <3 I have learned a lot! :D

    1. Thank you for suggesting this topic! I'm glad you enjoyed the post & learned something!