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Book Donation Programs: Home

Information about how to donate books to needy libraries. Also includes resources for those seeking donations.

ALA Library Fact Sheet 12

Please be aware that the American Library Association does not accept or distribute donations of books or any other materials. This Guide provides information on some of the groups and organizations that do handle book donations - including donations of used books.

If you are seeking book donations, you may be eligible to apply for donations from the groups listed--or one of the agencies on the "Seeking Book Donations" tab.

Book and Magazine Donations

This is a selective listing of some of the groups and organizations that accept book and magazine donations. There are many, many worthwhile groups, many of them with a more local scope. To find them, try a web search  for <book donations> or <magazine donations>.

Groups and organizations are named for informational purposes only.

Chicago Specific

Donating to your local library

If you have books to donate, first contact your local public library. Many libraries, or the Friends of the Library group, have regular book sales and welcome appropriate materials for resale.  Libraries typically have donation guidelines posted on their website, others you will need to contact by phone. Your local library can provide acceptable donation guidelines.

Most public libraries in the United States accept gift books with the proviso that the library is free to decide whether to keep the book in the library's collection, put it in a book sale to raise funds for the library, or discard it. By law, libraries cannot assign a dollar amount to your donation, though they may give you a receipt with an item count.  Donations may be tax deductible on your Federal or state tax return, but it is the donor's responsibility to assess the value (or seek a professional appraisal); consult your tax advisor.

If your collection includes rare or older items, you may wish to review the discussion, "Your Old Books," written by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of ALA.  It has useful pointers on what constitutes rare, instead of just old, and how to care for such a collection.

We also suggest contacting your state library, if your local library cannot accept your donation. Your local public library or an academic library in your area can supply you with the address and telephone number for your state library (often a toll-free call for in-state residents). 

General Guidelines for Donations

Rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t buy it or give it to a friend, think twice about donating it. Condition matters – if your items have any of the following issues, they usually won’t be accepted:

  • Dirty
  • Moldy
  • Burnt
  • Water damaged
  • Damaged binding or pages
  • Missing covers or pages
  • Excessive writing, markings, or highlighting
  • Cut out library treatments

In addition, many libraries will not accept Readers Digest Condensed Books, encyclopedias, National Geographics, workbooks and study guides, non-commercially produced media, or textbooks or professional materials more than 5 years old.

Publishers looking to donate

If you are a publisher with overstock seeing to distribute to individual libraries, please first consider that individual libraries are responsible for their own collections. Each library decides if a book fits the needs of their patrons or not. It may be best to preface your book donation package with a query letter, asking individual libraries if they would *want* to place your book in their collections. Libraries are not in any way obliged to accept books that are sent to them. More to the point, libraries have selection policies, and if a book is not accepted into the collection, the library has the right to decide another fate for the book, including either selling it at a book sale or discarding it outright.  Check with the organizations listed for individual donations; some will accept bulk donations. 

Selling/Valuing Your Items

ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians states "Special collections librarians must not engage in any dealing or appraisal of special collections materials, and they must not recommend materials for purchase if they have any undisclosed financial interest in them." "Undisclosed financial interest" includes the potential of receiving the material as a gift to the library. By extension, librarians not working in special collection also decline to provide appraisals, but instead will offer reference assistance in locating a source for an external appraisal. The appraisal or establishment of an item’s value for tax purposes is the responsibility of the donor, as are appraisal costs. Donors should seek further information on valuation of donated property from the Internal Revenue Service and their own tax adviser or attorney; specifically, refer to IRS Publication 561 "Determining the Value of Donated Property."

Sources of appraisal information include

Unusual places to donate books

Most places that accept donated new or used books will NOT accept sets of encyclopedias or other categories of books. Rather than simply putting these out for recycling, you can try thinking outside of the box and see if some more unusual places will accept your donation. Here are a few suggestions:

  • local theaters (for stage props)
  • arts and crafts locations
  • ski resorts
  • preschools/childcare sites
  • children's hospital
  • nursing homes

Helping U.S. Libraries After Disasters

The ALA Chapter Relations Office works with state and regional library associations to identify libraries that have lost collections due to fires or natural disasters.  For the most part, these libraries need funds to repair the facility and to rebuild the collection in a way that meets the local collection development needs. Once the initial recovery period is past, the library may seek specific donations or set up a "wishlist" with a vendor, such as Amazon.

To help, review the needs on the Chapter Relations Office page, or contact your local public library to find out any available opportunities, including, if you're willing, donating the books for its next fundraising book sale.

Electronic Resources Librarian

Rebecca Gerber's picture
Rebecca Gerber
Contact:
ALA Library
50 E. Huron St.
Chicago, IL 60611
800-545-2433 x3277