Fat Books & Thin Women

Donate for Literacy this Holiday Season

I’m going off the beaten track today (though not off the cliched track, it seems) in honor of the holiday season and as my mild protest of Black Friday and the wasteful, rampant consumerism of the day.

If you read this blog regularly you’re probably vaguely familiar with some of the stuff I do in the Peace Corps, and that one thing I’m working on now is building an English language library in my school. I mean, that’s only half of it – we’re also working to improve the “infrastructure” of the library (I don’t know what that means, but it’s a good Peace Corps buzzword) by setting up a catalog system, and to encourage students to check out more books and thus read more. What this all means is that I am right now spending a lot of time trying not to tear my hair out, downloading trial versions of cataloging programs and testing them, and researching reading programs that have been successful in American schools.

Maybe you can see where this is going. It is, after all, the holiday season in America, smack dab between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which means it’s time for pleas for donations to go out. If you’re thinking that this post is a plea for you to donate books to me, you’re about halfway right; it’s a plea, for sure, but among other things I’ve learned during this project, it’s that the people who will work to collect and ship books halfway around the world are the ones you’ve worked with back home. And in my frustrating search for organizations that exist to donate books to Eastern European countries
(they don’t exist, not that I can tell), I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of great organizations that need your books as much as my school does.

I am as much, or more of, a hoarder of books than anyone I know, and only the impossibility of fitting my library in the two fifty-pound bags I could bring into the Peace Corps broke me of my desire to own pretty much Every Book Ever Published. But a lot of these books that I owned I never read. I never will read them. These books sat on my shelves for years gathering dust, and only having to move forced me to get rid of some of them.

So it being the season of giving and all, why not look at your own books and consider whether you really need to hang on to all of them? Why not pull out your boxes of children’s books that have been residing in your attic for twenty years and try finding a better home for them? Instead of waiting, like I did, to be forced to get rid of some of your books, why not do so now? It doesn’t, after all, cost anything to give away those books you’ve read once and don’t expect to return to, or the stacks you picked up as the result of some crazed enthusiasm rather than actual interest at the latest library sale.

It’s not, after all, only schools in Eastern Europe that need English-language books. There are countless schools and classrooms in the States that can use your unloved or forgotten books, and all it takes is a little legwork on your part to find local organizations that need your reading materials. (As a example, before I left my apartment in Philly I donated a lot of my books to the hospital at which I worked. If I hadn’t spent a year there, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that hospitals need books to distribute to their long-term patients.)

It’s easiest, and probably best, to donate to local organizations – to call your local library, schools and hospital to find out whether they’re interested in taking your books. But below I’ve put together a list of larger-scale organizations that could use your donations of books and/or money. These are geared to American readers, but if you’re coming from another country and know a great organization that could use donations, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

  1. Darien Book Aid sends books to Peace Corps Volunteers working on library projects. I received a box from them and can vouch for the quality and usefulness of their books. If you live near them, in Connecticut, you can donate books, or you can provide a cash donation to help pay for shipping books to volunteers.
  2. Books for Africa sends shipping containers of books and takes cash donations to defray the cost of sending books overseas.
  3. Book Aid International, much like Books for Africa, accepts donations of money to help pay for book shipments.
  4. Books Behind Bars doesn’t handle book donations, but they list addresses of prisons in need of books and general instructions for donating your books to these prison libraries.
  5. The Prison Book Program is located in Massachusetts and doesn’t recommend shipping book donations, so I’ve linked to a page on their site with details on other prison book programs that may be closer to you.
  6. A resource page listing Native American K – 12 schools. There are some specific donation requests that you can explore from this site, notably the If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything program.
  7. Adopt a Library is a site with information on libraries seeking donations.

Trust me, your donations will be appreciated.




This is a great post! I’m going to link to it on my site. I don’t have a lot of books anymore due to the Kindle, and usually give to Goodwill — but this list is a wonderful resource. Happy holidays!

Comment by curlygeek04

thanks for linking! it’s great that you already donate your books, and this reminds me that I forgot to include Goodwill on the list of local spots that take book donations. (surprising, since i i was hitting goodwill with trunkloads of clothes & books a few times a week my last summer in the states.)

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

[…] libraries, schools, shelters, and prisons are all looking for donated books.  A great post on Fat Books and Thin Women lists links where you can find local or international places to donate books.  Happy […]

Pingback by Can something be a “modern-day classic”? « The Book Stop

This is a great post. Operation Paperback is another great organization that donates books to our service members overseas and to their families.

Comment by Coffee and a Book Chick

Hi Ellen. Great idea for this time of year! It’s funny, I’ve bought so many books that I’ve ‘fancied’ reading, but never got round too, and I KNOW I never will.

Since all my books are homeless right now (i.e. living under my bed since I no longer have a bookcase), I think I’ll have a good clear out and get involved (…and spread the word too of course).

Comment by Marie / Little Interpretations

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