116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Parting with books long loved can be a difficult thing. When that time comes for families cleaning out their homes or the homes of loved ones who have died, the idea of giving loved books new life with another owner can be comforting.
But often, books that have been on your shelf or in a box for many years aren’t worth as much for resale as their sentimental value, said members of the Friends of the Library in Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha. Over the last two years, the number of unusable book donations has ticked up substantially.
“They have the emotion of these books … but they feel better if they’re able to donate them to Friends of the Library,” said Libby Slappey, president of Friends of the Cedar Rapids Public Library. “But take a step back.”
With tens of thousands of books sorted by Friends of the Cedar Public Rapids Library each year, about 40 percent have to go straight to the recycling bin. With limited volunteer hours and rent due on the space that the nonprofit pays to store books for later sorting and resale, donating worthless books incurs a sizable cost. The organization, which raises funds to donate to the library for programming, spends between 60 and 120 volunteer hours sorting each month.
Though unusable book donations have always been an issue, Friends of the Hiawatha Public Library members have also noticed an uptick since the pandemic started two years ago. There, President Tom Raley said the nonprofit’s eight volunteers might discard up to 75 percent of a typical donation box.
In a typical week, they get two or three unusable boxes of books. To control the flow of books, they ask donors with lots of books to bring in two boxes per week.
“Right now, I have 30 boxes in the basement that I need to get to the dump,” he said. “I haven’t had luck finding anyone to do it.”
With far fewer volunteer hours and storage space to work with than Cedar Rapids, he said the organization is considering a new policy to meet all donors at the door to ensure they aren’t taking in books they will only need to throw away.
“It’s just overwhelming at times. Books keep coming in and our space is limited,” said Susan Van Woert, sorting center volunteer for Friends of the Cedar Rapids Public Library. “I don’t think anyone has an awareness of the volume.”
The number of books thrown into the recycling bin at the downtown library is sometimes so much that the bins become too heavy for trucks to pick up, she said.
Book donations can be deemed unusable or not appropriate for resale for a number of reasons: excessive wear, water damage, mold, odors, smoke, mouse droppings, being outdated or simply not worth a dollar or two. Sometimes, boxes of books are donated from estates without even being opened and examined by the donors.
For hardcover books, the process to discard is even more time consuming. Since hardcovers are not recyclable, they have to be cut apart with utility knives before being chucked into the bin.
With guidelines in place to help you decide, Slappey said you have permission to pitch books that aren’t worth anything.
“If you care about the organization, please let us use our time and volunteer power as efficiently as we can,” she said. “It helps us so much if you don’t give us things we don’t use.”
Find books for just a dollar or two at upcoming used book sales from Friends of the Cedar Rapids Library:
The Dollar Day Sale: All books and media for $1 on Saturday, Feb. 12 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the lower level of the Cherry Building (329 10th Ave. SE).
First Saturday sales: The First Saturday sales offer all books and media for $1-2 each on the first Saturdays of February, March and April (Feb. 5, March 5 and April 2) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the commons of the Downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library (450 Fifth Ave. SE).
The Big Biannual Sale: Two floors of books and media on May 13, 14 and 15 in the Cherry Building (319 10th Ave. SE).
Here are some guidelines on what do donate and what to discard:
- Hardcover and paperback books for all ages
- Rare, signed or first edition books
- Contemporary or classic fiction
- Non-fiction like cookbooks or biographies
- Complete and working DVDs and CDs like movies or audio books
- Financial or business books published in the last five years
- Travel guidebooks published in the last five years (Rick Steves or DK Eyewitness books have no restriction)
- Computer manuals published in the last five years
- Test preparation guides published in the last five years
- Psychology or self-help books
- Dictionaries, thesauruses and health books published in the last five years.
- Vintage books, if in good condition
DO NOT DONATE:
- Annuals or yearbooks
- Professional journals or periodicals
- Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)
- Popular fiction from the 1970s or 1980s that is worn or no longer popular
- Workbooks or study guides that are filled in
- Readers Digest Condensed books
- Books discarded by other libraries
- Abridged audio books
- LP records, audiocassettes or VHS tapes
- Outdated books about computers, travel, psychology/self-help, medicine, finance or business
- Damaged books with: missing pages, broken binding, worn or torn covers, water damage, dog-eared covers or pages or dirty covers and pages
- Odds and ends like calendars, computer software and puzzles
What about thrift store donations?
“Certainly, recycling is a big component of where some of our donations end up,” said Brent Watkins, spokesperson for Goodwill of the Heartland.
But don’t feel bad about donating clothes that might not be usable. Sometimes, having donations that don’t make the cut for their retail thrift stores isn’t a bad thing, he said, as Goodwill often has recycling partners that pay for them.
In 2019, Goodwill of the Heartland received more than 39 million pounds of donations, just under 10 million of which were recycled. In 2020, a year impacted by pandemic closures, just under 8 million pounds of donations were recycled.
The vast majority of recycled poundage comes from clothing. In 2020, 5.5 million of the 8 million pounds recycled were textiles. Some are repurposed, some are sold to third-party resellers and some go overseas, maximizing the value of donations and generating something for Goodwill.
Goodwill also recycles books, cardboard, belts, electrical cords, purses, scrap metal, shoes, computers and computer peripherals. In fact, the thrift titan is one of the largest computer recyclers thanks to a partnership with Dell.
A complete list of things they do and do not accept can be found on its website.
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