Green Weeding

Promoting ecofriendly options for library discards

Gone are the days of tiptoeing to the dumpsters with boxes of weeded books in tow. Lots of libraries are now taking advantage of the many low-cost services and solutions that promise to help extend the lives of collection discards. Some of these options can be very profitable. Some create goodwill within the local community. Some may seem more labor-intensive, while others require only a computer, a printer, and a few free shipping labels. Thanks to the ever-growing number of possibilities, libraries can select the solutions that best match their own staffing levels and space issues. Above all, every single library—no matter the size, budget, type, or location—can actively participate in “green weeding,” another form of library resource sharing. The act of weeding itself obviously ensures that collections, like gardens, stay green and healthy, but libraries can also strive to reduce their footprint by making conscious and collective efforts to pursue only environmentally friendly discard options.

Traditional means

Of course, countless numbers of libraries already hold book sales, often in conjunction with other crowd-pleasing events and programs. The Mifflin Community Library, Shillington, PA, put out the usual coffee and baked goods at a recent Saturday sale and netted over $1300 in six hours. The library at Ursinus College, Collegeville, PA, earned $400 from a spring fiction sale, held during a celebration of the International Edible Book Festival. Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX, routinely sells books in its library's coffee bar. Such ongoing enterprises can succeed, provided that the displays are neat, visible, and accessible. Book giveaways are another age-old solution to the discard dilemma. At the Montgomery County Community College library, Blue Bell, PA, the staff publicizes a paperback swap and parks a cart of free discards near the main entrance. Weyerhaeuser Company's library, Federal Way, WA, hosts an Adopt-a-Book Day event at which employees help themselves to withdrawn materials, including journals and videos. Local organizations also appreciate the giveaways. In almost every weeding situation, some of the withdrawn materials still have value and relevance. In these instances, electronic mailing lists are an excellent way to encourage area libraries to adopt the items at minimal cost. Shelters, schools, nursing homes, and community centers may want to add to their book collections as well. “There are always people looking for decent books,” says Linda Suklje, Mifflin Community Library board member and Friends president. Suklje's organization donates paperbacks to a nearby prison, popular fiction to stores like Goodwill, and picture books to a literacy initiative run by the Police Athletic League. Other ex-library copies go to a hospital's tent sale and to Book Bonanza, a countywide used-book sale that raises money for the summer reading program.

Passing along value

Libraries have long recognized the importance of maintaining strong ties to their communities, and Suklje's success shows that such commitments also benefit weeding projects. The Denver Public Library (DPL) sends discarded children's materials to early education classrooms; the children are thrilled to take the items home, and the teachers don't worry about getting them back. Ursinus College librarian Diane Skorina uses her campus contacts to partner with the environmental club for journal recycling tasks. Syracuse University, NY, relies on Textbook Recycle, a company in upstate New York that redistributes textbooks to nearby children's homes, nursing homes, and prisons. Partnerships with regional, national, and international charities and social ventures are advantageous, too. Internet searches and chats with colleagues can lead to these organizations (see “Tools for Weeding,” p. 33), which also serve as welcome referral options for libraries unable to accept all book donations. In the District of Columbia metro area, for example, Books for America dispenses materials to local literacy programs, inner-city schools, veterans' hospitals, and hospices. The Book Thing of Baltimore accepts gently used books and magazines regardless of subject or age. Nationwide, dozens of Books Through Bars programs deliver thousands of discards to U.S. prisons. Reader to Reader sends books to the nation's schools and Native American reservations. The International Book Project ships millions of items to libraries, classrooms, community centers, churches, and universities in developing countries.

Feeding the long tail

B-Logistics and Better World Books (whose Dustin Holland was a 2007 LJ Mover & Shaker) are two of today's most popular discard solutions. Both help libraries make the most of the marketing principles of the long tail, as coined by Wired magazine's Chris Anderson, wherein obscure titles are able to find a larger audience owing to the efficiencies of e-commerce. Centuries-old storehouses of just such specialized materials, libraries are perfectly poised to prolong the lives of their collections by continuing to share their resources—even those with low usage statistics—long after the items are withdrawn. If the long tail is simply a matter of matching supply with demand, as OCLC's Lorcan Dempsey has indicated in D-Lib, then it's smart to offer discards online because the Internet facilitates connections with millions of potential book recipients. B-Logistics accepts all discards, including CDs and DVDs, from all types of libraries. “We generally have 300–400 library systems actively shipping to us each year,” says LeeAnn Langdon, sales and marketing director. “Some send 30,000 volumes every three or four weeks. Others send 100 books per year.” Each time B-Logistics resells a discard on sites like Amazon, AbeBooks, or Alibris, a portion of the net proceeds goes back to the donor library. Materials unsold after five months are given to the company's nonprofit literacy partners or, if still unclaimed, recycled. Queens Library, NY, a B-Logistics participant since 2005, sends everything in order to save staff from hours of sorting. DPL, influential in the creation of the sales program, has earned over $170,000 since 2002. Obviously, shipment size and weeding frequency affect profits. According to Langdon, “Libraries that weed regularly typically have much more success with our program...because they are discarding fewer items that are heavily damaged or hopelessly out-of-date.” Better World Books also resells discards through many of the same online venues. Since its inception in 2004, it has partnered with more than 900 libraries. Although it discourages the donation of certain materials, like sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica, the company does offer free shipping and shipping from branches; shipments do not have to be put on pallets, which contributes to reducing expensive staff time. Libraries can share a percentage of net sales with a literacy charity of their choice and may opt to receive store credit with Alibris in lieu of a quarterly check. Better World Books also offers unsold materials to its own nonprofit partners before recycling the leftovers. Like the libraries that joined forces with B-Logistics, contributors to Better World Books are pleased with the results. “The Brooklyn Public Library sees a real value in this relationship and has been more than happy with the revenues it generates,” over $155,000 since 2005, says Barbara Genco, director of collection development. Western Kentucky University Libraries, Bowling Green, succeeded in building a $200 Alibris credit over a two-year period. Southwestern University earned $300 with Better World Books during the 2006–07 academic year. Some libraries choose to enter the online marketplace on their own. In addition to partnering with B-Logistics and Better World Books, Syracuse University's library sells materials on eBay. The libraries at the University of Southern Maine, Portland, and Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, both use Amazon. The former has earned about $600 since last August, and the latter has made approximately $4000 in the past six years.

Trading up

Book trading sites can also help libraries locate online buyers directly. BookMooch, for instance, has a simple premise and a catchy slogan: “Give books away. Get books you want.” Aside from mailing costs, the service is free. Members earn points by adding their own books to the inventory and by sending specific titles to those with matching wish list requests. They may then spend those points by “paying” for books received or by donating them to charities. According to founder John Buckman, dozens of libraries are BookMooch members and charity point recipients. “Libraries are a big focus for BookMooch in the next year. I will continue to add the features that they ask for.” Finally, we think OCLC could even develop a long tail of sorts. It could put willing institutions' withdrawn titles onto a list that libraries could access. An email alert or RSS feed could notify libraries whenever an item in a specific subject area is withdrawn from WorldCat. In short, today's libraries have a much better chance of finding new homes for their withdrawn materials. Without a doubt, a concerted and continued commitment to these types of collaborations is key. At DPL, 12 year-round volunteers work tirelessly on various discard projects. “If there is another use for the material,” says Jo Sarling, director of collections and technology, “we'd like to find it.”
Author Information
Sarah Penniman is Access Services Librarian, Delaware Valley College, Doylestown, PA. Lisa McColl is the Database Management Librarian, Montgomery County Community College, Blue Bell, PA

Tools for Weeding

Visit the Green Weeding Wiki ( for more possibilities, and to post your own recommendations and suggestions for alternative disposal options. Alibris Amazon B-Logistics Better World Books Book Sale Finder Book Thing of Baltimore BookMooch Books for America Directory of Prison Book Programs eBay International Book Project International Society of Altered Book Artists Operation Paperback Paperback Swap Reader to Reader Textbook Recycle
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