Donations: a double-edged sword

Let’s back up to a few entries ago when you wrote that outreach e-mail. If all went well, you’ve got donations pouring in right now. If all is going realistically, some of those aren’t actually a great fit for your collection. But help! These are donations! If you don’t accept them, won’t somebody be upset?


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Our donors have been radically generous, and the Skybrary’s collection has more than doubled as a result. I was invited to go through the weeded materials of a local high school library and cherrypick hundreds of barely read middlegrade books; heaps of librarians and library school alumni donated brand-new books from conferences (see ARCs tomorrow). Many were casual and realistic about their donations. “If these aren’t good for your school, you can just give them to Goodwill,” I heard more than once over boxes containing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and graduate-level information theory textbooks. But some donors were less clear, or simply left books without a face-to-face meeting.

The inevitable moment I realized I needed clear a donation policy came when I arrived at the school one day to find no fewer than five heaping boxes of books parked in the library. Hooray!, I thought. Only to realize that under those nice new copies of Harry Potter were stacks of old adult horror books nibbled by mice and speckled with mold.

Also a lawnmower manual and some outdated travel books.

None of the school staff had seen the donor come in, and nobody in the community would ‘fess up. The main ethical concern was what to do with the books that weren’t suitable for our use. What if the donor, or the donor’s kids, came into the library and saw that their donated books weren’t on the shelf? Would they be upset? Would they ask to have them back? It was clear that my laissez-faire donation policy wasn’t going to fly much longer. To safeguard against future ambiguity, I wrote the following donation policy:

The Skybrary thrives on book donations! Donated materials are subject to the same criteria as regularly selected materials. As such, donated items must: be of student interest, be age-appropriate, and be in good condition. Materials not chosen for inclusion under these criteria, or that are duplicates of books already held in the Skybrary, will be donated to Goodwill or another charitable organization, given to the art teacher to be used in projects, or placed in the “free” box.

Your collection development policy is going to be your best friend. You’ve put a lot of thought into what you want in your library—if someone has given you a book that doesn’t fit (or even runs counter to) that standard, you aren’t obligated to keep it. In fact, to serve your library’s mission, you shouldn’t keep it. To protect yourself from donor dismay, include in your collection development policy a clear section on donation standards and what to do with donations that don’t suit it.

Be aware that donations can come in all forms! One family asked to donate $500 worth of new books to the Skybrary—I just had to tell them what to purchase.  Always have a running wishlist, and be cognizant of what you do want as much as what you don’t. With a policy in place, donations can become a fruitful, useful component of your collection.

(This entry feels boring, so here is a joke. Q: What was Old MacDonald’s nickname in the Army? A: G-I-G-I-Joe!) (This is the only joke I can consistently remember. I learned it from Highlights magazine when I was seven.) (Now if I meet you at a dinner party, you will already know my joke; CURSES; WHAT WAS I THINKING?)


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