As a school library media specialist overseeing the libraries in five elementary schools, I often get questions from parents and community members about donating books to the library. Typically, I gently turn away the donations and suggest that they are better suited for individual classrooms, thrift stores, or public library book sales. Many people are very upset by this. Why wouldn’t the library jump on the chance to get free books? Why do school libraries often turn down book donations? There are a variety of reasons. If you’ve ever wondered why a school library doesn’t accept donations of books, here’s why.
First of all, school libraries operate on something called a Collection Development Policy. This policy is in place to make sure that books are selected appropriately for the library. The policy outlines standards for quality, variety, and other factors that help create a diverse and high-quality library collection. Librarians are bound to select book titles based on this policy. These policies differ from school to school and library to library, but most have a section for donations. This section of the Collection Development Policy outlines why donations may not be accepted.
A major reason that school libraries do not accept donated library books is quality. Books purchased for libraries are not typically the same as the books you purchase at Wal-mart or even Barnes and Noble. Library books are library bound, meaning they have a stronger, longer lasting binding. This binding is often both sewn and glued. This helps keep books in the library longer. Four or five paperback copies and at least 2 regular hardbound copies of a book would last the same amount of time as one library bound copy. While library bound copies are initially quite expensive, their lasting quality makes them worth the price.
Since students can be very rough on books, it is essential that school libraries purchase long-lasting books. Library books are thrown into backpacks, stuffed into desks, chewed on by pets, and used as a toy by little brothers and sisters. Sure, some education about how to care for library books takes place, but still the books have to be able to face a lot of abuse from students.
Another reason school libraries often do not accept book donations is that books themselves are not the only costs incurred in placing a library book on the shelf. A bar code, spine label, reading program label, genre classification, and plastic label covers are applied to the book. If the library has a book jacket it must be covered in plastic sheeting. Then the book has to be cataloged in the computer system. This all costs money and time. It takes quite a bit of time to process one book to get it ready to be checked out. School libraries are typically not staffed to be able to process paperback books, or books that have already been used quite a bit, that will need to be replaced in just a year’s time. Removing books from the system when they are damaged beyond repair takes time as well.
So if you’ve ever tried donating books to your child’s school library and have been offended by the librarian’s refusal, please don’t be upset. Donated library books are not free; they cost time and money. There are selection criteria in place that librarians take quite seriously. Sure, there are some exceptions to every rule and every policy, but many times donated books will be turned down by a school librarian. We want what is best for your child and your child’s library! Thanks for considering the school library, but try some alternate suggestions (I send mine to the public library book sale to raise money for the public library) instead of donating books to your child’s school library.