5 Ways to get rid of unwanted books

Alex Manson-Smith 2 September 2021

Are your shelves buckling under the weight of too many books you’re never going to read again? Here are the five best ways to get rid of them

Donate them

If you can’t afford to make regular charity donations, then donating your old books is a painless way to give. But there are ways to do it that beat leaving them outside your local charity shop.

One is to organise a book drive. One in four disadvantaged children has fewer than ten books at home. The Children’s Book Project aims to change that by gifting books that families have grown out of. They’ll give you all the tools you need to run a book drive at your workplace or children’s school, and in most cases will collect the books from you.

Books2Africa accepts new and used books in English, French and any African language. Ideally, they’re looking for textbooks, reference books and novels, but notebooks and exercise books also go down well. If you can’t drop these at their processing centre in Canterbury, you can pack them into cardboard boxes and arrange a courier pickup.

If you’ve any LGBTQIA+ books in your collection, you could send them to Books Beyond Bars, which provides LGBTQIA+ people in prison with reading material, although it’s only a small charity, so can’t cover postage.

Sell them

Sure, you can list your old books on eBay, but really, who wants the hassle (and expense) of posting a stash of hardbacks? For something less labour-intensive, try one of the many websites offering to buy your books for cash.

WeBuyBooks is arguably the biggest of these, but most work in much the same way: you enter your book’s barcode or ISBN number, they’ll tell you its value, you post your books—free—with the label provided, and they transfer payment.

Other sites offering a similar service include Ziffit, a B Corp company trying to make it so that no product goes to landfill, and musicMagpie.

"If you’ve something you suspect might be particularly rare or valuable, it’s worth calling an antiquarian book dealer"

If you’ve something you suspect might be particularly rare or valuable, it’s worth calling an antiquarian book dealer. Most will be able to tell you over the phone if they’re interested. Maggs Bros Ltd in Bloomsbury is one of the world’s oldest and biggest antiquarian booksellers—and book dealer to the Queen, no less—but prides itself on not being stuffy.

Bernard Quaritch is another venerable dealer happy to advise amateurs on how to sell rare books. Or you can try checking how much your copy is worth on Abe Books.

It’s worth remembering that books don’t have to be particularly old to be valuable. A first edition of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights is worth nearly £8,000, and if you can lay your hands on a first-edition Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, you’ll be some £70,000 better off.

Exchange them

Illustration of a hand passing a book to another outstretched hand

For something a bit more community-driven, try joining a book exchange. BookMooch works on a points system: you receive a point for each book you mail to someone else, which you can then “spend” on someone else’s book. There’s a pleasingly random selection of books on offer—it’s a long way from the range you’d find in your local Waterstone’s.

More altruistic still, try leaving your books for a stranger to discover. BookCrossing is the act of releasing your books “into the wild”, the aim being to connect people through literature. So far, nearly 2 million readers have taken part in this global project, which aims to celebrate books by tracking their journey around the world.

Start a little library

a library of books

It doesn’t matter if you live in Hackney or a hamlet, you can cheer up your local community by creating a Little Free Library. Billed as the world’s largest book-sharing movement, there are now more than 100,000 little libraries in over 100 countries.

Essentially, it’s a box of books you leave within easy view of your house—neighbours and passers-by are invited to take a book, or leave one themselves. The website offers plenty of advice on how to build your box, along with handy tips (make it waterproof!)

Turn it into a holiday

Hay-on-Wye, on the English/Welsh border, is widely known as Britain’s book town. Known for hosting the world’s most famous literary festival, it’s also home to some 20 bookshops. Their owners are always on the lookout for antiquarian, rare and quirky titles, so if you’ve a pile of old books gathering dust, why not pack up the car and make a weekend of it?

Not sure if yours fit the bill? Check what the local shops are selling to see if you have anything similar.  

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