My Dearest Donations

August 16, 2016

Evanston readers are remarkable individuals.  They have superior taste in books.  And I know this not just because of what they check out, but because of what they donate to the library.

The other day I was on my Evanston Mamas Facebook group and someone mentioned that they had a bunch of lovely children’s books looking for a home.  Inevitably when someone says something like this, people will fall over themselves to tell them to, “Donate them to the library!”  At which point I have to step in like a big old meanie and say, “Yes . . . . if they’re not gross!”  You see, people get very emotionally attached to their book donations.  Imagine you’ve decided to clean house and there on your shelf is a travel book you purchased once for your honeymoon.  You have no intention of ever returning to Maui again in your lifetime (why didn’t anyone warn you about the mosquitoes?) but you remember the trip fondly.  The book is a physical reminder of the start of your marriage.  You know you have to get rid of it, but the recycling bin?  Too cruel.  So even though the book is from 2003 and lists about 49 different restaurants no longer in existence on Maui, you donate it to the library.  You feel good about this.  Like you’ve done some kind of a public service.  Trouble is, what are we supposed to do with it?  Add it to the collection?  Sell it in the booksale?  Friend, that’s just not going to happen.  And so we do what you should have in the first place.

This sort of situation happens every single day.  The sheer number of yellowed, disgusting, out of date, ripped up, bent, broken books donated every single day in countless Whole Foods grocery bags is awe-inspiring.

But this is not a blog post of complaint.  No, it is a blog post of celebration!  Because while 90% of what we receive is a bit on the schlocky side, 10% is precisely what I need to improve the EPL collection.

Take a gander at this picture:


See these books?  Each one of these is a pristine donation.  A book in the kind of condition that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to cover in wrapping paper and give to a friend.  And these titles?  We’re adding every single one of these to our collection.  Here then is a list of Best Kinds of Books to Donate to the Evanston Public Library:

Mystery Novels (1970-2005) – The other day one of my shelvers asked if we could weed out the mystery novels in our collection that aren’t read all that often.  I ran a list and came up with . . . . twenty books. The fact of the matter is that Evanston mystery readers are voracious.  They read everything.  Problem is, they’re very keen on older out-of-print titles.  That means that if a book gets gross, I can’t just reorder it for my collection.  In the picture above you’ll see that someone donated Total Recall by Sara Paretsky.  Friends, in its lifetime that book had gone out 67 times and was decaying on the shelf.  Now I have a pristine version that looks good, reads beautifully, and will extend its life for a good number of years.  Thanks, helpful mystery reader!

Really Popular, Really New Books – These books appear frequently but in random places.  I might be digging through the donation dumpster, panning for gold, and find a week-old edition of Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.  Or I might see a bag of donations at the circulation desk, give them the eye, and discover the new Harry Potter and the Cursed Child sitting at the bottom of a bag.  When this happens I have these books speedily processed as either Most Wanted copies or placed directly in the system to fill our countless holds.  They are marvelous and I cannot thank the patrons that donate them enough.  Thank you, public!

Anything by Malcolm Gladwell – I’m really not kidding about that.

Classic Novels – You might think we have enough beautiful editions of Catcher in the Rye on our shelves, but you’d be wrong.  Classic novels, while gratifyingly in print, are inevitably worn through and through.  New hardcover editions of these books are always welcome.

Popular Authors’ Earliest Works – I love a new Ian Rankin, but if you can hand me an OLD Ian Rankin you’ll win a friend for life.  Particularly if it’s in hardcover with a pristine dust jacket.  Them’s gold, I tells ya!  Gold!

New Travel Books – Almost never happens.  If 10% of the donations are perfect for our collection 0.0001% of those are travel books published in the last 3 years.  Yet travel books are probably our MOST checked out section in a lot of ways.  So to you I say, if ever you have a new travel book and nostalgia doesn’t compel you to keep it, please consider donating it to the library.  Your fellow Evanstonians will thank you.

And for those of you that have donated any of the above books in the past, I thank you, and you, and also you.  Your library is grateful.


Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.

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