Build a Quality Home Library-- Without Breaking Your Budget!
A home library can serve as the information center of your home, as a source of entertainment when the power goes out, and as a source of lifelong pleasure and learning. Studies have consistently shown that children who grow up in homes with many books do much better in school than those whose minds have been starved. If you're looking for ways to fill your library shelves, and feed hungry minds, here are some ideas for where to look. I've listed them in order of affordability, with the cheapest options first.
Library Book Sales
In some areas of the country, library book sales are the very best way to grow a home library. I've bought hundreds of hardback books for .50 each, and often less, and as the end of the sale day approaches, the price usually drops. You can often fill an entire grocery bag for $1! You may not want to keep everything you pick up, but it's a cheap way to try new authors and to get books you can swap or sell.
Coffee Shop Swaps
My local coffee shop, Ashland Coffee & Tea, is lined with bookshelves. The deal is that you can take any book you like-- you just bring back two to replace it. I've found terrific stuff there, and I always have plenty to donate (this is where you can take duplicates and leftovers from those library book bags!). I've heard that other coffee shops across the country offer similar opportunities, so be sure to check in your community. This is just one more good reason to patronize the local folks rather than the big anonymous chains!
Paperback Book Swap
This internet-based swap site is a terrific way to get nice paperback books for just the cost of postage. You sign up, list books you'd like to give away, and wait for them to be requested. When you've earned a few credits, you may begin requesting books. When someone requests a book you've listed, you are notified by e-mail. You go to the swap site, and confirm that you can send the book, then print out the wrapper, which is two sheets of ordinary printer paper with all the mailing information, printed on. You fold this around your book, tape it, and send it off. It works beautifully! If you click on this link to visit their website, you can sign up immediately to swap paperback books for FREE.
Large thrift stores usually have a book section, and it's almost always possible to find something good. Some thrift stores receive nearly new books from the bestseller list. These aren't the type of thing I read, but I sometimes buy them to swap or resell, if they are cheap enough. I've noticed that some of the big chain thrift stores such as Good Will are beginning to price books higher than I want to pay, but the small, individually operated thrift stores often have a wide selection under $1 each.
Green Valley Book Fair
Residents of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States are lucky-- they can easily get to the 25,000 square foot Green Valley Book Fair when it is open. This warehouse in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is open about six times a year, for about two weeks at a time. Prices for new books are stunningly low (60-90% off retail), and the selection tends to be similar to what you find at the big bookstores. It's worth a trip if you're anywhere near. You can find the current schedule and directions at their website, www.gvbookfair.com.
New Book Stores
Most new book stores have a bargain book section where you can sometimes find good books marked 50-75% off, or even more. Some chains, like Barnes & Noble, also publish their own line of classics at relatively reasonable prices. They usually aren't the best translations available, but can be useful if you are unable to find a good used copy elsewhere.
Before You Go Shopping
For best results when shopping for used books, know what you want. My personal library numbers in the thousands, so I have to make sure I don't duplicate what I already own. I keep a list of authors I am looking for, as well as specific books I'd like to replace with a better copy.
If you are new to library-building, you may want to read some of the following books to help you get started (your local library should have copies of at least a few of these guides, as well as others):
• Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson
After You Go Shopping
Catalog Your Books
Build Sturdy Bookshelves
If you begin building a serious library, you'll soon find that you need bookshelves. Lots of bookshelves. I've found that sheets of particleboard can be sawed into 6" strips at a pretty reasonable cost per shelf. A 4' x 8' sheet of particleboard can yield a pretty decent ceiling-height bookcase. First, saw off two 6" by 8' strips, then saw the remainder of the board into 6" x 32" strips. Screw it all together, and it's pretty sturdy. Be sure to leave space at the top to run a strip of trim around it to connect it to the wall. Never leave it unanchored, or it may fall over! For added sturdiness, you can cut three 2" wide strips from the long edge of the sheet of particleboard before cutting the shelves. Screw these to the edges and center of the back, and screw them into the wall, and the bookcase should be very secure. With a little imagination, you can customize these simple shelves to march up a flight of stairs, or wrap around a room. Your library will soon be looking good!
The bottom line is, you can have a great home library without paying anywhere near new book prices. As your collection starts to grow, people will often offer you their unwanted books. Take them! If you don't need them, you can share them with others, swap them, or even sell them and buy books you need. Someone somewhere is probably looking for a book you want to give away. Take care of your books by protecting them from moisture and insects, and they will repay you with hours of pleasure.
Janice Campbell, author of Transcripts Made Easy, Get a Jump Start on College!, and the forthcoming Excellence in Literature series, is the Director of the National Association of Independent Writing Evaluators (http://www.NAIWE.com). She homeschooled her four sons from kindergarten into college, and has been writing and speaking in central Virginia since the late 1980's. Be sure to visit www.Everyday-Education.com for a free, printable version of her writing evaluation rubric, plus an information-rich e-newsletter.
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