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When you move, what do you do with all those books?

When you move, what do you do with all those books?

Image: Jackson Gibbs for The Verge

If you have a large collection of hardcover and paperback books, it can be hard to get rid of them — but not impossible.

When my partner and I moved in together, we didn’t just have to combine furniture and posters and clothing but also two very large collections of books. Those collections have grown considerably since then, and should we ever have to make a move again, we’ll have a real problem on our hands. What to do with all those books?

Unfortunately, because so many people are now reading on phones, tablets, or portable reading devices like a Kindle, it can feel more difficult than it used to be to sell or give away physical books. But there are still places out there where you can pass on your used books. Here are some ways you can move your reading material along to someone else.

Sell books online

One solution is to sell your books. The first place you might think of is through a site such as Amazon, but that can get both complicated and frustrating. As an individual (as opposed to a business), you have to set up a seller’s account and pay Amazon 99 cents per book, a referral fee of 15 percent of the selling price, and a closing fee of $1.80 per item.

Screenshot: Powell’s
Selling your books online sounds like a good idea, but it may not be worth the trouble.

Luckily, there are alternatives. For example, at Powell’s, you enter the ISBN and the condition of the book(s), and you get back a quote. You then mail the books to them and reap your reward via PayPal. (Although it may not be worth the trouble — for a like-new hard copy of the 2010 novel All Clear by Connie Willis, I was offered $1.67.) AbeBooks is also a popular place to look for used books, but it deals mainly with professional sellers; fees for selling start at $25 a month.

If you have recent textbooks you don’t need anymore — and we all know how expensive those can get — you can try GoTextbooks. BookScouter will show you the prices offered by a variety of booksellers, along with user ratings, and you can choose which one to sell to.

Try used bookstores

Once upon a time, many cities and towns had bookstores that specialized in collecting and selling used books. Depending on where you live, there may still be shops that will either pay for used books, accept them for store credit, or just take them off your hands.

For example, Don Blyly runs Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore in Minneapolis and says, “People are still buying and reading hardcover and softcover books. I estimate that about 3/4 of the books leaving the store are used books.” He adds that people often go to used bookstores not just to save money but to find out-of-print books by authors they have recently discovered.

Photo: Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore
There are still some old-fashioned used bookstores that might accept your books.

Besides Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore, which specialize in genre literature, Minneapolis also has stores such as Paperback Exchange, which offers customers trade credit for discounts on new and used books.

In NYC, you can try the well-known Strand bookstore, where you can get cash or store credit for up to 40 books. The Housing Works Bookstore Cafe accepts used books and clothing to help support people with HIV or AIDS. And at Sweet Pickle Books, if you donate books in person, you can exchange them for a jar of, yes, homemade pickles.

In other areas, you can see if one of the many Half Price Books stores is located near you; bring your books there and see what they’ll offer.

There are even quirky sources such as Connecticut’s The Traveler Restaurant, which offers free books with each meal (and will take your excess books as well).

Libraries

Libraries have traditionally been good places for people to unload books they no longer want. Many still take used books that they then add to their collections, sell for extra cash, or give away. Unfortunately, since the start of the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, some have stopped that practice, so it’s a good idea to check with your library’s website or call ahead to make sure they accept donations.

Little Free Library

If you have some time on your hands, you can build your own library. Little Free Library is a program that helps individuals put up their own “take a book, leave a book” box right outside their homes, stores, or wherever they have permission. The Little Free Library site provides all the information necessary to either start a book distributing program or find one in your neighborhood where you can drop off a few of your own. (There’s even a mobile app.)

Photo: Little Free Library
A Little Free Library can be simple or imaginative.

Charities that accept book donations

There are still a number of charities that may take books, such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army or similar thrift stores. Whether they take books and what kind of books they accept can vary based on location, so check with your nearest thrift store or do a search online.

Other possibilities include:

Better World Books has drop boxes for your used books in a variety of locations throughout the US. It donates books and funds via a number of nonprofits and supports literacy projects.

Books Through Bars is based in Philadelphia and sends free books to incarcerated people. Check with the site to see what they are looking for and learn how to donate.

Operation Paperback sends books to US troops overseas as well as to their families and veterans at home. On the site, you can find out which books are being requested and where to send them.
The American Library Association has a page where it lists a number of places to donate books.
Another website that lists local resources for donating books is Local Book Donations.
You can also check with local homeless shelters or nursing homes. People who don’t have ready access to electronics or who are not comfortable reading from a screen may welcome a fresh source of reading material.

And finally, if none of these work for you, some of my neighbors simply put a box of books outside their home for passersby to check out. Just make sure it’s not going to rain.

If nothing else, recycle the paper

If nothing else works, then it’s time to consider recycling. As much as the idea of pulping a book feels, well, wrong, it’s better to recycle the paper than to just send it to the local dump.

Before dropping your books in your paper recycling bin, make sure you understand what’s accepted by your local recycling center. For the most part, paperback books are fine. However, hardcover books are not; the covers are not generally manufactured solely of paper and are therefore not recyclable — you’ll have to pull out the pages.

You can get more information on recycling books at a site called Earth911 or, again, from your local recycling center.

And now that you’ve sold, given away, or recycled your old books — well, you’ve got room for new ones, right?

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