"I Wonder" Wednesday: Refusing Large Book Donations?

From: “Helen P. Mack” <hpm0@Lehigh.EDU>

In the last year or so, we have been the recipient of 2 very large groups of donated books. In both cases, we’re talking about over 1000 books. For political reasons, we felt it unwise to refuse the donations. But the problem is obvious — what to do with all these books when they come through the door? There are concerns relating to staffing, temporary housing, staging area, time spent reviewing them and selecting the keepers, disposal of duplicates, cataloging, and shelving. What to do with books in disrepair? I wonder if the expenditure of all this time and labor is really worth it.

If it is worth it, then we need more staff, more space, and more time to do justice to the gifts operation. That is not going to happen in this economic environment. If it is not worth it, then is the answer a policy to refuse any donation over, say, 3 cartons? This could easily turn into 3 cartons this week, 3 cartons next week … you get the picture.

Have any institutions gone this route? Has anyone declared a moratorium on accepting donations? Are there libraries that have discontinued their entire gifts operation? Was there any fallout from what you did? And what do you do with books that someone just drops off — recycle them without looking at them? What if there is a rare book mixed in with textbooks from 1955, for example? At what point do you say this is too much and things grind to a halt?

After reading this recent post to COLLDV-L, ATG is wondering:

[poll id=”26″]

Why or why not?  Give us your reasons in the comment field below.

Pin It

3 thoughts on “"I Wonder" Wednesday: Refusing Large Book Donations?

  1. I’m assuming my experience is typical. As collection development librarian for an urban library serving a population of 420,000 and with multiple branches, I find that we’re probably keeping less than 1% of donations. Disposal then becomes an issue. Donors are always well-intentioned but generally are blind to the condition and relevancy of the items they’re donating.

  2. Academic librarian August 8, 2011 at 10:32 am -

    In my experience at a large academic library, large gifts are typically more useful than random small donations. We have added large chunks of material that have expanded the diversity and balance of our collection (for example, a large donation of important African-American scholarly titles). The man-hours required to handle a large donation is worth it if you’re significantly improving the collection. However, very large gifts must be considered *in advance* for quality and usefulness–and you should politely refuse them if the books are garbage. Don’t allow people to think of the library as a dumping ground for their unwanted materials–even “political” VIP’s.

  3. Gifts have been the bane of my existence. While the Library Administration is loathe to have us decline gifts, especially from retiring faculty members – they are constantly asking us to “give up things we don’t need to do anymore.” As an interim measure, our selectors “vet the gift.” we always ask if they have a list we can select from. In my 37+ year experience, I have found that very few of the people who give us book donations are actually the ones who give MONEY to the libraries. So we waste a lot of staff resources helping people dispose of their unwanted trash. Until our Library Development staff have to physically handle these materials – we’ll be pressured to accept them. Just my 2 cents worth – not the opinion of my employer!