The Value of Second-Hand Books


 Who wants old books? No one it seems, these days

Recently, the above essay was published in the Globe and Mail. It resonated with our volunteers because we see this tragedy every day. It’s a fact of life.

It’s a little sad that we’ve spent so much money on our libraries, only to have them thrown away; on the other hand, it’s not the books that matter so much as the content. The most valuable stuff is already in our brains.

Do you have a personal library you’re thinking of pruning? Hold each book in your hands and consider these questions:

  • In its current condition, would you pay $3-$10 (or more) for the book?
  • Are the contents relevant to today’s reader?
  • Would it be of interest to someone who already has a library (because it’s your fellow bibliophiles who are buying most of the books)?
  • Are there already a gazillion copies available, and there’s nothing special about your copy?

The following lists outline what we do with donated books: these guidelines might help you get your books to the right place.

 Straight in the Garbage

  • Anything damaged. This includes torn covers or pages, loose spines, water damage and coffee spills.
  • Anything with black or white mildew. Smell the book to make sure there is none.
  • Anything dirty, extremely dusty or with evidence of insect activity

 Off to the Recycling Bins

  • magazines that are not collectible
  • scruffy paperbacks and soft-covers
  • scruffy fiction
  • out-of-date non-fiction (including encyclopedia sets that are not collectible)
  • culturally-inappropriate non-fiction or fiction (e.g. anything currently considered offensive to minority groups)

 To the Sale Shelves

  • regular priced:
    • clean, relevant fiction and non-fiction
    • signed by unknown or self-published author/illustrator
    • Book-of-the-Month club
  • higher priced:
    • fiction and non-fiction from the last two years
    • signed by famous author/illustrator (without an inscription to a specific person)
    • antique (WWII or earlier)
    • collectible libraries (such as Franklin)
    • boxed books (such as Folio)
    • very large coffee-table books
  • Amazon or e-Bay:
    • books worth over $40 on or
    • collectible sets
    • antique books (first editions more than 100 years old)

Are you interested in how second-hand bookshops currently work? We highly recommend Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller.