How to get books #1: the outreach e-mail

I was lucky in beginning this project because of my community resources. I had a space and an administration excited to work with me, for one. Additionally, because I’m a graduate student, I had connections in three graduate departments passionate about books: English, creative writing, and the library school.

The list-serves for these departments were my first resource for soliciting book donations. While I didn’t have access to the mailing lists for all three, I was able to get in touch with people who did, and the word rippled out from there.

The e-mail was simple, and looked like this:

Dear [whomever],

Planning to move this summer? Going through a major literary destash? Don’t haul your books to Half Price–help build a library at my school!

I teach English part-time at a tiny, wacky private school out by Dripping Springs called Skybridge Academy. It’s a very small alternative school for grades 6-12. The principal’s given me permission to try to scrap together a working school library. So I’d love to collect donated books!

Our fledgling library would especially love fiction and nonfiction for grades 6-12, but would be thrilled with anything–please get in touch, and I’ll take your old books of your hands.



[my title/degree + graduation year]

It worked well, for these reasons: it’s short, it’s personable, it appeals to the reader’s interest, and I’m not asking for money.* In fact, I’m offering to do work for the reader. To have someone save you the trouble of a trip to Goodwill, and get to feel like you contributed to a cause you believe in (kids reading books)? Beautiful.

(*I never asked for money. Astoundingly, someone once offered some, but I—gratefully—declined it. It felt complicated.)

I’ll give you one guess who responded the best (and this adorable picture to look at while you do).


Or you could just look at this all day. No one would blame you. (image credit:

Or you could just look at this all day. No one would blame you. (image credit:

Librarians. Overwhelmingly, I was flooded with enthusiastic responses from librarians. It’s great fun to speculate about these patterns (the PhDs in the English department receiving the e-mail in the dead of night and clutching their beloved books to their chests in a panic—to part from literature? Nay, never!), but goodness, the library school students and alumni were all over this project. Free books from conferences. Bags of books. Trunkloads of books. Always with caveats and apologies—“I don’t know if these are a good fit for your students”—but also with a readiness and heaps of excitement for the project.

The Skybrary's first donation!

The Skybrary’s first donation! Thanks, Lauren!

This passion was echoed by everyone I reached out to. There’s something irresistibly infectious about a DIY school library. Even if they didn’t have books, people offered money, ideas, help processing and event-planning, and just plain enthusiasm. “What a great project!” became the refrain of my (honestly, already pretty great) summer.

If you aren’t in a library science program, reach out anyway. If there’s no library program at your local university, try the English department. Consider school and public libraries, PTAs, churches and synagogues, high school English teachers. Not everyone may have books for you, and some may even be legally prohibited from donating (city and state governments may have strict guidelines regulating the disposal of resources), but the world is filled with people who

  1. love public service and
  2. love books and
  3. have too many of the latter that they’d love to share in service of the former.

Brainstorm folks who would be nuts about libraries. Represent yourself simply and honestly. “I’m an aspiring librarian, and I’m seeking used books to start a library at XX School.” Let them see your passion, and they’ll respond in kind.


2 thoughts on “How to get books #1: the outreach e-mail

  1. Pingback: Creating a library on a shoestring budget (or: how to DIY your socks off) | The Skybrary

  2. Pingback: Donations: a double-edged sword | The Skybrary

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