A colleague from the library once said something very wise to me that has stayed with me ever since. We spoke about the status of donations at the Evanston Public Library.
People used to leave books at the back door of the library where our maintenance crew would pick them up and take them to a sorting area on the third floor.
This turned out to be a lot of extra work for our maintenance team and relieved them of their other duties in the library. Over time, the decision was made to discontinue the library’s regular book sales due to the sheer volume of work it imposed on our hardworking staff.
My librarian friend and I were talking about how the Evanston Public Library is one of the few libraries in the Chicago area that actually accepts donations. “Well, it’s an act of charity,” he said. “We are charitable to people by taking their books. The library is indeed doing an emotional service to the public.”
I was thinking about it. If a person goes through a regular house clean (or, if you’re like me, a two-decade clean), they can take away from Marie Kondo the books they don’t enjoy.
But every book that comes into a person’s possession has a story to tell. The thought of throwing away or even recycling a book can be really painful for people. It’s much better to give such books to an institution dedicated to the care and protection of these books, yes?
The problem with this assumption, of course, is the fact that a public library is not a reference library. Adding a donation takes employees away from their other jobs and can strain resources.
That doesn’t mean we don’t do it. But we have to be selective about what we add or don’t add. And when it’s all said and done, what do you do with the rest?
Luckily, not long after that conversation with my friend, we stumbled upon a wonderful solution. When you come to the Evanston Public Library via Church Street, you will see a small alley leading off the church just after you pass the library. There, in the middle of the block, sits what we affectionately dubbed the Big Green Monster.
This is a light green bin gifted to us by a company called Better World Books. Its purpose is simple. If you have a donation for the library, place it in the Big Green Monster and it will devour all of your books.
Where do they go after falling down the proverbial Maw? Better World Books collects these donations three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons) and sells them online, giving the library a share of the profits.
Not that this solution is without problems. Despite the red stop signs on the bin and requests not to place returns from public libraries there, people do.
Also, Evanston is a book community (or haven’t you heard?). On the weekends, people will pull up in their cars and unload bag after bag of books. Better World Books has informed us that of all their customers, none, and I mean none, offers more books than our Evanston residents.
So if you see a librarian scouring the dumpsters for donations on a sunny Monday morning to see if anything is suitable for the collection, feel free to say hello. That’s me just skimming a little off the top. For the sake of charity.