How and Why to Donate Your Book to a Library – 5 Tips

by Nancy Humphreys on October 14, 2011

1. Two good reasons to donate to a library are (a) to get a catalog record, and/or (b) promote your book.

(a) A catalog record is vital to librarians. They use a catalog record to identify, shelve a book with others like it, circulate the book (i.e., check it out to patrons to take home) and re-shelve that book back in the right place. A catalog record lets patrons find their book by its title, your name, a keyword(s), or a subject. Only accredited librarians and their staff can create a catalog record for your book.

(b) The best means of promoting a book or any other product or service is by word-of-mouth sales. Libraries are a great place for promoting your book. You can do this by through making an “author appearance” and giving a “book talk”. Not only could you donate your book to an interested librarian, but you usually can sell books to your audience after your talk. Likewise, if your book is on a library shelf, a lot of people may see it, and perhaps buy it later.

2. Donate your book to a Friends of the Library group

Friends of the library groups fund raise for libraries by holding book sales of donated books. You might protest that your book won’t get into the library that way. And you might think it won’t get your book cataloged. You’re right it won’t do that immediately.

However, a donation to a Friends of the Library can achieve those objectives for you eventually. Patrons of libraries often browse the Friends of the Library sale shelf or book store inside the library. This means readers will see your book. Some will buy it, read it, and tell their family, coworkers and friends about it. Those people may buy your book too. One of them may even ask your library to buy your book for its patrons.

3. Approach the right decision-maker in the library

Make sure you approach someone who has the authority to accept your donation. Usually the person with that power will be a librarian. Although some smaller libraries will give a person without a Master’s degree from an accredited library school a title of librarian, this isn’t common. But be aware there are many kinds of librarians who work in a library. You have to find the right librarian to take your book.

The librarian at the circulation desk (the place where you check out books) probably won’t be the right librarian. Circulation-desk librarians often take and pass on requests from patrons for the library to buy books, but they don’t usually deal with buying books or taking donations of books.

4. Be at the right place in the library

Your best bet will be to ask for a librarian who is in charge of buying books for the area of the library where your book will be shelved and talk to them when they have the time. This pretty much requires that you visit the library you intend to donate to, and/or that you use a reference book called a “directory” to identify the right library to donate your book to.

Use the right directory of libraries and you may be able to locate the best possible library to donate your book to. You can also get the name and contact info for the librarian who buys books there.

But with this information, you could also try to sell your first book to a library likely to be interested in it. Consider trying to sell your book first, before you offer to donate it. The librarian who has no funds to buy your book will be grateful for getting a second chance to acquire it when you offer to donate it.

5. Pick the the right time to donate your book

Try donating your book after it has been for sale for awhile. By then your book will have a proven track record, i.e., sales and/or favorable book reviews from review sources that librarians deem “authoritative” for book-buying purposes.

Libraries take donations of older books that meet the terms of the library’s particular gift policy. Accepted will be books of interest to a library’s patrons, regardless of the age of the gift. Books are like fine wines or cheeses. A book that’s not too new or past its prime will be appreciated if it is one a library’s patrons can use.

All of the things I’ve mentioned here are discussed in detail in my new book, Marketing Your Books to Libraries: An Insider’s Guide for Authors. In it, you’ll learn :

  • Four ways to get a catalog record for your book
  • How to tell what kind of library to donate  to
  • Get past the “gatekeepers” who influence librarians
  • Kinds of librarians and what books they want
  • Ways to locate libraries most likely to take your book

For additional information about selling your book at the library, see Barbara Techel’s Class Act: Sell More Books to Libraries through School and Library Author Appearances.

Want to learn even more about donating your book to libraries? See also “Can’t Even Donate Your Book to a Library? – 5 Reasons Why

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Marketing Your Book to Libraries Marketing Your Books to Libraries: An Insider's Guide for Authors by former librarian Nancy K. Humphreys includes: 
  • How to tell what kind of library to target
  • Types of librarians and books they order
  • Strategies to get past the "gatekeepers" who influence librarians
  • Right ways to approach librarians most likely to order your book

Learn more »


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim Wolterman October 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Great tips, Nancy! I would add that it can be helpful to ask the library what kinds of books they are looking to add to their collection. When I approached the head of the history and genealogy department at the Allen County Public Library about my latest non-fiction book which deals with WWII, he told me that they are working hard to build their WWII section and the stories of the men and women who served. My book about my dad’s service in the Army Air Forces was perfect. I gladly donated a copy to the second largest genealogy library in the U.S.!

Chris Aldridge May 21, 2016 at 8:59 am

I personally find it insulting for a library to ask an author to donate their book instead of buying a copy. Because it’s assuming that the author is there for charity and doesn’t want to be compensated for their time and work. Especially if the book is cheap and the library has lots of money, it’s extremely insulting. They’re basically telling the author they have no worth as a writer, that they’re not even worth $10, or however much the book costs. Secondly, if you’re always giving other people your money, you’re not going to prosper in your profession. At some point, you have to MAKE money. I do lots of free stuff for people that I am more than happy to do, but some things I expect to be compensated for, like my hard work and the long, countless hours of writing, research and proofreading that I put into writing a book. Just my 2 cents.

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