February 18, 2006 | Episode 7

Crowded bookshelf
Crowded shelves? Donate your books to charity
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How to Donate Used Books

You could sell your old books when you’re trying to clean out your shelves, but why not do a good deed instead?

• Both Philadephia’s Books Through Bars (215-727-8170, www.booksthroughbars.org) and Chicago Books to Women in Prison (www.chicagobwp.org) send requested paperbacks to people in prison to help promote self-improvement. Hardcover books are not needed. Instead, they’re usually looking for paperbacks on topics such as self-help, spirituality, parenting, and recovery. Check the websites for specifications and to arrange pickup, drop-off, or shipping. Similar prison-literacy groups exist across the country; check to see if there’s a chapter near you.

• If you have old textbooks still taking up space on your shelves, Bridge to Asia (415-678-2990, www.bridge.org) wants them. This San Francisco–based nonprofit collects books, textbooks, academic journals, and other teaching tools to send to individuals or universities in Vietnam and Cambodia. People living in the San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles areas can drop off donations at BTA warehouses on appointed days listed on the website. Those in other locations can box up their books and mail them in.

• Connecticut’s Darien Book Aid Plan was started by woman volunteers in 1949 and is still run by an all-volunteer staff. Today the goal remains the same: to collect new and used books of all types (but not older than 10 years) for distribution to libraries, schools, and Peace Corps programs overseas. The charity also gives to prisons, hospitals, Native American groups, Appalachian groups, and hospitals. Call before you mail donations to the warehouse (203-655-2777, dba.darien.org).

• You can donate books to charities that support health initiatives. Housing Works, for example, is a New York City organization that provides housing, health care, and support services to people living with HIV and AIDS. The proceeds from its used-book café, filled with donations that are either shipped in or dropped off, are used to support these programs (212-334-3324, www.housingworks.org/usedbookcafe).

• Stand-bys such as Goodwill (www.goodwill.org) and the Salvation Army (www.salvationarmyusa.org) can often use old reads. Local branches have differing donation policies, so track down your home store or office via the national websites and proceed from there.

• Larger organizations, like the International Book Project (888-999-2665, www.intlbookproject.org), accept requests from international schools, churches, and Peace Corps sites, then send books where they are needed. IBP accepts textbooks, paperbacks (fiction and nonfiction), medical books, and even encyclopedias, but make sure your texts are in good enough shape to last for at least five years. Donors must ship their books to IBP using a downloadable packing slip from the website. They are also asked to include a donation to cover the cost of the books’ overseas journey.

Operation Paperback (operationpaperback.usmilitarysupport.org) was started in 1999 by the family of a solider stationed in Kuwait who had complained that his base offered no recreational facilities. Today it directs books to U.S. military men and women serving in dozens of international outposts. Interested donors must register online. They then receive addresses where they can send requested books directly to servicemen and women all over the world.

• Many public and some school libraries accept donations through their own resources, and some will even pick up, so call your local branch or look online for libraries with a Friends of the Library group or a similar community-outreach program. Be aware, though, that not all donated books go into the borrowing collection. Some might be sold in book sales to raise money.

Reader to Reader (www.readertoreader.org) is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that accepts used books and distributes them to needy school libraries in the United States, including those in inner-city, rural, and Native American reservation schools. The organization, which accepts donations by mail, is looking for books at all reading levels and in a wide variety of subjects, including math, history, science fiction, and literary classics.

• Community senior facilities are another venue to consider. Judith Gillingham, executive director of Edison Senior Outreach Service in Edison, New Jersey (www.edisonnj.org/seniors), suggests reaching out to senior centers or even assisted-living and gated communities for older folks. “Assisted-living facilities usually have a small library with large-print or soft-cover books donated by families,” she says. “And a lot of those people don’t drive anymore, so they aren’t going to the library.” To find senior centers in your area, contact your local government’s office of senior services (sometimes called “the department of aging”).

Look online for other donation options. You can check up on charities at Charitynavigator.org, Charitywatch.org, or the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org).

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