I work at an urban middle school, and from what I've been hearing from libraries across the country, I am fortunate to even have a job at a school library. Some of the schools in my school district share a librarian, so I'm even more fortunate in that I stay at the same school, with the same collection and same kids, all the time.
When I started at this school, I was dismayed at the state of the collection. From the looks of things, it had never been weeded; there were books in this collection that were older than my parents. I can't imagine that a book from the 1950s would be of much use to the average middle school student. So I did what any reasonable librarian would do in this situation: I weeded. I cleared out all the books that were so laughably old that the information was no longer correct. When the dust finally settled, I had a more up-to-date collection than I had before, but also a noticeably smaller one. I needed to add new books to my collection, and I needed them now, if not sooner. There was only one problem: I have no budget. Yes, you read that correctly. While my school is blessed to have a library and a librarian, there is no budget for new materials. None. Zero. Zip. Nada.
All this meant for me is that I have had to get rather creative in the way I obtain new books for my library. I spent the better part of a month scouring the internet for possible sources for books for my students, and while I haven't found a magic money tree that would provide me with a budget, I have found a few options that may also work for you:
- Donors Choose: This website allows teachers (and librarians) to create a wishlist of things for their classroom/library. Once the wishlist is created, the site generates a funding total, and all you have to do is advertise it. Some of your friends, family, or faculty may be willing to donate some money to help your library get new books. Your project will also be on the Donors Choose website, so people searching for a place to donate may choose your project as well. I created a Donors Choose project in September and it was funded by the end of December. We had our new books in January. I had to send in a thank-you package containing thank you notes written by my students, and I wrote a thank-you letter that was posted on the site. I will probably create another of these projects in the fall.
- Goodreads: I hate to give up what has been a good source of free books for me, but I also want to make sure others have books. Goodreads is a great resource for information about books. I have it up on my computer all day long, as students are always asking, "What's the next book in the such-and-such series?" or "What is this book about?" I write reviews on there myself and keep track of what I'm currently reading or what I want to read. But Goodreads also does giveaways; you can sign up for as many as you like, and if you win the book, it's mailed directly to you by the author or publisher. I have won probably ten or so giveaways over the course of this school year. Goodreads does suggest that winners write reviews of the books they receive, but it isn't required. The catch here is that lots of other people sign up for the giveaways, too, so while I've won ten books, I've probably entered five hundred or more giveaways. I don't win often, but it is nice to receive a free book when I do.
- Goodwill, Salvation Army, Thrift Town, etc.: Stores that sell used goods are great sources for books. They aren't free, but they're usually a lot cheaper than they would be otherwise. The key is to check the same store(s) on a regular basis. I was able to purchase the last six books in the Pendragon series (in hardcover) for $1 each, which completed a set at our library. While I can't give my entire paycheck to updating our library, I can buy $6 worth of books now and then.
- Library Book Sales: Our county public library had a book sale a few months ago, and I made sure to visit the first day it opened. I grabbed as many YA titles as I could carry. Because YA books are still sometimes considered children's books, they often sell for 50 cents or $1. In this case, I got ten recently published hardcover YA novels for $5, and they were practically already processed for me! All I had to do was cover the old library barcodes with my own and we were good to go.
- Free Book Stores: Yes, this is really a thing. They accept donations, organize them, and then allow people to come in and take a certain number of books each time. Since these books are free and are donated, it's kind of hit-or-miss, but it's possible to find good things here. And they're free.
- East Bay Children's Book Project: If you live in the SF Bay Area, you can take advantage of this program. It's currently set up in a park in Oakland, but they are looking for a new home for the fall. If you are a teacher or librarian, you can take up to 50 children's books or an unlimited number of YA books each time you visit. I have gone three times now and gotten over 300 new books for our library. The only cost involved was my travel time and the gas for my car.
Books I got from one trip to the EBCBP - all free!
- Scholastic Book Fairs: My school has a book fair twice a year. I always make sure to attend a workshop, which earns me 25 Scholastic Dollars, and I always take all of the profits in Scholastic Dollars as well. We also did the All for Books program during this last fair, and my students raised over $150 - that means that I had $150 to spend on books for my library, and a library in need somewhere got 150 books.
- Friends and family: I have made it abundantly clear to my ever-patient friends and family that my library needs books. Now they are also on the lookout for books that are on sale or books they can donate. Sometimes they give me books they are trying to get rid of, which means I might get outdated books or books that are not appropriate for middle school, but I always accept them anyway and just find new homes for them if they are not right for my library.
- Students: It might sound weird, but some of my students actually have a lot of current YA books that they've either already read or already decided not to read. Just this morning I had a student walk in and hand me eight books that she didn't want anymore. Several of these books fill in gaps in the series I am collecting. She told me, "I like donating books to our library, because even if I haven't read them, I know I can always check them out later if I want to read them."
- Publishers: Sometimes publishers will send me free books if I contact them after I've attended a Booklist webinar. Also, obviously it's easy to get free books from publishers at conferences like ALA; unfortunately, these conferences can be expensive and aren't always close enough to home to warrant a trip. I am planning on attending the conference in Las Vegas this year, so I'm hoping to get some books there, too. Capstone Publishing offers $100 in book points to AASL members, so I got four hardcover biographies from them, absolutely free.
This is how I've been able to add nearly 1,000 books to my school's collection this year. I still have a wish list a mile long, but the library is much better off than it was at the beginning of the year.
How about you? Are there any free/cheap sources of books you've found?