UX Librarian: Better World Books - How To Recycle Books and Make Money

Monday, September 8, 2014

Better World Books - How To Recycle Books and Make Money

As a librarian, sometimes I find myself drowning in a sea of books. Mostly these are books that have been donated that we choose not to add to the library collection, and books that have been weeded due to age, wear, or lack of use. As a small library we regularly house about 10,000 items and we can’t keep every book forever and ever. At the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia, we do maintain a small book sale and we probably make about $8-10 per month selling these books. We also sell books on Amazon with all proceeds benefiting the library.

In the past two years, we have weeded about 3,000+ books from the shelves of the library. Excessively worn books go into a dumpster and are disposed of in the local landfill. Because of our rural location in West Virginia, there is no place within a 50+ mile radius to recycle books. Other books have been lovingly packed in boxes and shipped off to Better World Books in Indiana. In the last two years, I have personally boxed up 78 boxes of books that have been shipped off to BWB. Better World Books pays for the boxes and the shipping, making it even easier to expedite this reciprocal relationship. Assuming that each box holds about 20 books, I estimate that I have recycled well over 1,500 books in the last two years through BWB.

So what is Better World Books?

Better World Books was founded in 2002 by three friends at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The goal of BWB according to their website: “Better World Books uses the power of business to change the world. We collect and sell books online to donate books and fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than 8 million new and used titles in stock, we’re a self-sustaining, triple-bottom-line company that creates social, economic and environmental value for all our stakeholders.” Sounds great, right? In short, Better World Books promotes literacy, creative book recycling, and environmental responsibility. I wrote a brief article about Better World Books a while back but I wanted to write an update on the success of our partnership with BWB.

Better World Books accepts donated books and resells them on 50 different outlets online. I have even bought books for my library from Better World Books (via Amazon) and I love that my library's relationship with BWB completes a full circle. If you are interested in buying books from BWB, you can check out their site here.

Where Does the Book Money Go?

One of the great aspects of BWB is transparency. Via an online portal, I may see how many boxes of books BWB has accepted for the Pioneer Library and I can see how much income has been made via online sales. So far, Better World Books has sold $458.77 worth of discarded books from the Pioneer Library. We only make 15% of sales, so our cut is $58.28. Five percent of the sale go to our Net Proceeds Literacy Partner (NPLP) so they have earned $19.43. Our NPLP is Worldfund, a nonprofit that promotes literacy in South America, and I got to choose this nonprofit from several choices. I chose Worldfund because South America is our neighbor and also in acknowledgement of the fact that Latinos are the fastest-growing minority population in West Virginia.

Environmental Benefits From Better World Books

OK, so the Pioneer Library has not made a ton of cash from selling books via Better World Books, but there are other benefits besides cash. The same portal where I may view sales shows the environmental impact of our book donations. Since I only recently sent another batch of 26 boxes of books, BWB has not caught up with the full total of items that have been sent. But, according to the portal, of the 749 books they have received, 439 have been recycled and 310 have been reused. This adds up to 1,024 pounds of books! Also according to the BWB calculation I have saved the equivalent of 11 trees, 6,595 gallons of water, 1,594 pounds of greenhouse gases, and 2,463 kwh of electricity. This makes me feel even better about sending books to Better World Books.

But wait, there's more. As of May 2014, Better World Books has raised $16 million for literacy worldwide! Not bad for an organization that began with three friends who just wanted to recycle books and promote literacy. Please keep in mind that half of that amount has been reinvested into literacy programs and libraries in the United States. So while you can buy and sell from BWB as a library, they also give back to libraries in donations and grants. You can't say the same thing about Amazon.

Is BWB Worth the Effort?

Overall, Better World Books is serving our library and the world amazingly and creatively. I am thrilled to keep hundreds of books out of our local landfills. I am pleased that BWB offers carbon offsets to individual book buyers for just a few cents extra. BWB has a holistic approach to literacy, recycling, and philanthropy that seems to cover all the bases. What has it cost the library? It does take staff time and tape to pack up 26 boxes of books (per shipment). BWB provides free boxes, labels and shipping. I have to place UPS labels on all the boxes and call UPS for pick up, but I still feel like the time I spend on preparing these books is well worth the return on investment. If a small rural library with two part-time staff members can participate successfully with Better World Books, so can you. And remember, the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia accepts books for donation.

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