Managing Library Donations

The start of every school year was always the same. A well-meaning library patron, having moved over the summer or taken some time to clean up their book collection, came in with a large number of boxes used books, excited to see them used by the kids in my school’s library.

Some of these donations were very much wanted but came at a time when I didn’t have time to get them in the collection. Many others were dated, damaged, or dusty and couldn’t be of use to us in the library.

Before I could show my carefully crafted policy, I’d have rows of boxes eight deep outside the library because they’d been accepted by the main office before I could review them. Without a storage area for donations or time to process immediately, the donations I received grew into an unsightly box area in what I hoped was a dark and unnoticed corner of the library. I had a major problem managing donations, feeling like I couldn’t turn anyway because of politics and budgetary needs, but not having the resources to store and process the volume of donations we received.

I’ve learned since that other school libraries struggle with managing donations too, and I’m not the only one with an overfilled closet or storage area of donations, a large portion of which will never end up on library shelves. 

So let’s start addressing these donations as a school library community.  This year, I’ve been able to use the strategies below to keep my donations at the level that I can process during this year and significantly reduced the number of donations that I will need to discard rather than use in the library or pass on to a classroom teacher. I hope you find some of them helpful!


  • Keep a publicly accessible list of what the library needs so that the number of wanted donations increases.
  • Use a special bookplate or catalog notation to acknowledge donations.
  • Send a thank-you note for accepted donations. Be sure that the letter mentions that donations to the library become property of the library subject to your collection policy. Describe the donation and put the note on school letterhead if you have it so that the donor can use the acknowledgment for tax purposes.
  • Have a donation policy on file to ensure that donations can be rejected if they don’t meet collection standards.
  • Be sure that your administration and those who are going to receive the donations understand how to handle library donations. 
  • Ask for a temporary hold on wanted donations if needed to focusing on processing already accepted donations.
  • Have uncomfortable conversations. If a donation is truly unneeded and it will be re-donated or discarded, ask a donor to redirect it elsewhere where it may be used. 
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