Library Books Thrown Away: We Are The Solution

There has been quite the uproar online the past week about two articles which discussed the issue of libraries actually throwing away books. First, Cracked.com wrote about the problem. Then, NPR responded and elaborated. Now, it’s our turn to show these news outlets and book lovers around the world how we are the solution.

I interviewed our library experts at Better World Books about how we serve and work with libraries to help them responsibly handle their surplus books, make money, and make the world more literate in the process.


Question: The Cracked.com and NPR stories about book-burning and trashing at libraries around the world is shocking news. Is it true? Do libraries really sometimes throw away, or even burn, books?

Answer: Yes, they sometimes have to throw away books but we haven’t heard of anyone burning books. Librarians regularly need to make room for updated editions, yet struggle to find an easy and comprehensive way to move out old stock. They often do not have recycling contracts, and no environmentally responsible outlet for getting rid of their used books.

Some libraries have terrific Friends groups that sell some of the material, and some books can be donated, but often much remains. Some libraries just don’t have the resources to sell, donate, and find recyclers for these materials. Hence the late night dumpster runs.

And no one is more troubled than librarians themselves.  

You can learn even more about our love for working with and serving libraries in this recent Sustainable Life Media news article about Better World Books: How Dumpster Diving Can Be A New Business Metric.

Q: Why do libraries get rid of these books which have so much life left in them? Is it really cost-saving?

A: In some cases, libraries have no choice.  Laws vary from state to state and some make it difficult for libraries to find a solution for their weeded materials. And in some cases, they are not aware of the options available to them. There are libraries who throw books away, those who recycle their books, and those who have them sold on their behalf, many times through Better World Books.

Q: Where do we, Better World Books, come in? How did we find out about the library book throw-away crisis and when did we decide to help?

A: It was at the American Library Association conference that we first heard librarians admit they were sneaking out to the dumpster to throw books in the trash. They just didn’t have an outlet for the books they took out of circulation.

The librarians saw that we had an ideal platform for selling those books to generate revenue for the library. Suddenly, we were popular folks at that conference, and a major strategic decision for our business was born.

Q: How many libraries do we partner with?

A: We partner with over 3,000 libraries across the U.S, Canada, and the U.K.  Libraries ship books to us free of charge.


Q: How much do libraries have to pay us to help them with their used books?A: Nothing! We often hear that our program is “too good to be true.” There are no service agreements (unless requested), sign-up fees, monthly fees or one-time fees. We understand the budget constraints many libraries across the nation are facing and as a result charge nothing. 

Q: What’s in it for the libraries? How do they benefit from partnering with us?

A: Libraries partnering with us receive commission for books sold from their inventory shipped to Better World Books. In addition, the program serves as an outlet for their unwanted books.  Books sold from their inventory also benefit a local or international literacy partner that Better World Books and the library support.   

Books from their inventory that cannot be sold are donated.  And only as a last resort, are books recycled. Better World Books has never placed a book in landfill.

To date, we have raised over $10 million for our literacy and library partners across the U.S and around the world. This includes over $4.5 million to directly support libraries.

Q: How else do we partner with libraries?

A: We have reclaimed more than 720,000 pounds of metal shelving from libraries across the United States.

We also support libraries through our partnerships with literacy non-profits such as the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), which is the worldwide leader in family literacy. More than one-million families have made positive educational and economic gains as a result of NCFL’s work, which includes training more than 150,000 teachers and thousands of volunteers in communities, schools and libraries across America.

Better World Books has also provided libraries all over the world with grants to support much needed programs.  Check out the grant info here.

Q: Do we ever throw a book away?

A: No. We are very conscious about our environment and we have an active recycling program. If we determine that a book does not meet our criteria or cannot be sold due to its condition, then we will recycle the book. Books that do not sell after a given period of time are collected and prepared for distribution to our Non-Profit Literacy Partners or recycled in an environmentally responsible manner. To date, we have re-used or recycled over 70 million pounds of books – that’s over 57 million books!

We hope this message gets across to everyone concerned about books being thrown away. Please share our story and let us know your thoughts…

6 Comments

  1. You provide a great service, one that I was unaware of until I read this entry. I know that my own library uses an outside source to sell books on sites like Amazon and Half.Com. I wonder if they make more money doing what they’re doing (despite having to pay a middleman) or if your service is a better option. It might be a good point to bring up sometime. It really is about the money these days, unfortunately. If a library can make more money by using a certain service, it will of course utilize that service. That’s the bottom line, I guess.

  2. Sounds like a great service. I had no idea my library was throwing books away until I saw a local news story on the subject and a friend confirmed seeing books in the trash-it’s just appalling.

  3. Hello I’m Filipina residing and married to Serbian citizen i got 2 kids schooling here in Jura Jasic Novi Sad Kac that’s the place, the language is so difficult to me few people know how to speak English,only going to library is my habit atleast reading English books but the problem is run out of English books, I wish and hoping so much if you consider donation your unwanted books for throwing why not giving it to us here in Serbia but please be sure to check what kind of books should be giving for the children to learn. There are many people around the world who do not have easy access to books like us, Thank you and hoping for your considerate action.

  4. Thank you

  5. Pingback: A good book is a terrible thing to waste

  6. I’m so glad to find an organization like this. It’s absolutely criminal that libraries throw away books, and they always offer some arrogant excuse that it’s “policy.” I’m very much under the impression that many library personnel would rather discard a book than donate it free, let alone sell it secondhand, to someone — because that means they no longer have control over the book(s) circulating. I have remonstrated with the employees in local community libraries about this abominable practice and all I get in reply are glib, facile excuses for throwing perfectly good books away, and one termagant actually screamed furiously to my polite inquiries and said that I must be a hoarder and a dumpster-diver, if I’m so against a library destroying books. Keep up the good work and spread the word — books are to be read, NOT thrown away because some librarian has lost the ability to personally oversee their being borrowed.

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