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What Do Librarians Do with Old Books?

One of the most common questions librarians get from visitors is what to do with old books. If you have an old stack, you have options like donating your old books to friends and the library or selling books.

What’s interesting is that libraries do something of the sort. Libraries go through their collection from time to time and remove books to create space for new books. 

We had whole classes for book collection management through my library management training, and weeding was among the topics we covered.

Weeding in simple terms is the removal of books: so what happens when old books are weeded?  

They Are Recycled

If the books are considered harmful to the environment, they are not thrown away. If librarians prefer the recycling option, they first have to sort the old books. Paperback books are taken to the proper recycle pickups. If there are hardcover books, the cover must be removed first as they contain plastics and glue.

Libraries then take books to government and commercial recycling centers.

Donation to Friends of The Library

If the books have not fallen apart, librarians donate them to Friends of the Library instead of recycling them. It is a charitable organization funded by proceeds from book sales and dues paid by members.

The organization accepts donations in books and, for this reason, partners with libraries. When librarians withdraw some old books from the shelves, they donate them to Friends of the Library.

Libraries also partner with Better World Books to help them sell them to generate revenue through commission. Through the proceeds, Better World Books also supports literacy initiatives. Libraries partnering with the organization take pride in being part of the initiatives.

Giving Them Away

Sometimes, libraries may decide to give away the books. However, they are keen on ensuring that the collection they give out does not contain outdated information that would be considered misleading.

Most libraries give out the books online on platforms like Freecycle.org and Craigsist.org. There are tons of other outlets and options libraries leverage to give out the books for free or even at a cost. Libraries also give out books to prisons as they serve as a vital source of information to the inmates.

Some schools, like elementary schools, are also usually in need of books.

Selling the Books

Librarians also sell old books to persons who may be interested. Selling the old collection may as well be an extra revenue stream to fund the institution’s operations.


While throwing away books may be the first option for getting rid of old collections for most people, it is undoubtedly not for libraries. So before they resort to that, they often explore options such as donating and selling.

Librarians partner with different organizations to sell books and use the proceeds for a charitable cause. They also donate to schools and prisons where books are in high demand.

If the books have fallen apart, they mostly decide to recycle them.

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