How do you get rid of books?

Most book lovers confront the possibility of being crushed by their libraries at some point or another. Depending on your space and your finances, it might just be a pile of four or five texts in the corner or it might be a wing of the house that is going to collapse under the weight of a Boeing 747 in books. Whatever your circumstances, at times, you’ve probably had to trim back.

And my question to you is: how do you do it?

The answers aren’t as easy as they might seem.

Most people’s first thought is to give away books to friends. This is a personal connection and a nice thing to do. It makes perfect sense when you have an extra copy of The Wizard of Earthsea (RIP Ursula) and your buddy is into science fiction. But it’s a much more challenging proposition when you’re talking about a lot of titles you need to dump, without clear cut choices amongst your friends.

The second quick response offered by most people is to donate the books to libraries. Even if the library can’t use the given title in its permanent collection, many institutions have periodic sales to raise money. The problem with this option is that so many people have done it, for so long, that today many libraries don’t want to burdened with your old dog eared copy of The Bridges of Madison County.

The third off-the-cuff response is frequently to sell the books at used bookstores. This keeps your cast offs in circulation, supports what are frequently independent businesses, and makes you a few dollars. The challenge here is the low rate of return. I’ve done it too many times in the past where I haul seven thousand books to the store and the dude says, “Great, we can offer you five dollars and thirty two cents. Plus, a gift certificate for a free cappuccino in our cafe.” I understand that their profit margins are low and they need to make some cash, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth it to go with the used book store route.

So the easy answers aren’t always so easy, when you get down into the details of the question. So let’s hear your suggestions… What is your preferred method for reducing the library and passing along extra titles?


  1. My county holds an annual book recycling event – you can donate as many books as you want, and take home as many as you want of the books from other donors, free. Whatever books are unclaimed at the end get responsibly recycled. The first year, my family dropped off two big Rubbermaid bins? worth of books, and only brought home less than one bin. Our donate/take volume has declined over the years as our shelves have slowly been purged. My one rule of thumb is to take home fewer books than I brought.

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