Understanding the Issues | The Importance of Policy & Procedures | Gift Issues to Consider | Internal Revenue (I.R.S.) Regulations | Local, Historic, or Rare Materials | Selling, Recycling, Giving Away Donations | Encouraging the Best Possible Gifts | Other Ways to Involve the Public | Further Information | Self-Assessment #11
Understanding the Issues
Donations of books and other materials are a sign of interest in the library, as well as a practical means of support. Accepting donations can be a tricky business, depending on who is making the gift, the needs of the library and the donor’s wishes for the gift. It is important to address donations in your collection development policy so that all gifts can be handled appropriately and diplomatically. This section discusses some of the issues surrounding donations, as well as some other ways to involve the community in collection development. Above all else, remember that “nothing is free” and that often a library forgets to factor all of the elements into the cost of gifts. Make smart business decisions when considering the issues associated with gifts.
The Importance of Policy & Procedures
As with other areas of collection development, a written policy is a necessity. By stating your conditions for accepting gifts and clearly outlining the possible uses for donations, chances are good that everyone involved in the donation will be satisfied with the outcome. A gift policy should state that you will apply the same objective selection criteria to donations that you would apply to purchases of new materials. It should also state what types of books or other formats you will not accept, such as reference books over five years old or textbooks. The librarian should reserve the right to accept, reject, sell, or otherwise dispose of donated materials. It may be helpful to have donors sign a form indicating that donations are made without restriction and that the donors understand that the library may use the donated items as the librarian deems appropriate. See the Collection Development Policy section of this site for more information about gifts. Sorting, selecting, processing, and disposing of gifts can be an extremely time-consuming process. Furthermore, with the increased cost of solid waste (garbage) disposal the library should not be assuming the costs for the disposal of materials that are not in appropriate useable condition or that are listed in the policy as not accepted by the library.
It is not only acceptable but it is absolutely necessary for each library to define what are to be considered appropriate gifts. The gift section of the policy should be posted and easily found on the library’s website. The questions concerning gifts are common ones and allowing your clients to read your policy before bringing materials to the library might save you some awkward public relations discussions. The Garrett Public Library gift policy is a simple straight forward example of a policy while the policy of the Roeliff Jansen County Library in New York is more complex and addresses a number of special circumstances.
Two recent examples of dubious large “gifts” to libraries help to underscore the importance of considering the costs of actually using some gifts and the importance of thinking creatively to resolve public relations situations. In 2000, the Maricopa County Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert, Arizona was one of the libraries that received a very dubious gift of 15,000 books. The article reporting this gift explains that the books arrived somewhat unannounced and “comprised only ten titles and included 11,496 copies of a single 1960s children’s book.” (American Libraries, 31(6), 28-29., Jun-July 2000). After negotiation with the company giving the books, a better accommodation was reached and the library used the books as give-aways to preschool, Head Start and other programs. The books were all but useless for the library’s collection. This incident is similar to the settlement by a Federal Court that required music companies and distributors to compensate libraries in a price fixing case by giving libraries free music CDs. The libraries involved in the class action suit received hundreds of titles each that were “non-sellers” and had been sitting in warehouses. Some libraries went to the expense of cataloging and processing these items but most were far more selective and invested in only a few of the titles for their collections. A large proportion of the CDs were not worth the cost of processing and storing in prime real estate in the library with the expectation of little or no use. These and other library gift stories make it imperative that a library understands both the political and public relations issues that surround gifts and has the good sense to sometimes “just say no” to unsolicited, inappropriate, and costly gifts.
Gift Issues to Consider
It is reasonable to restrict gifts to those things most likely to be useful for the library. This means that you should include in your policy a statement regarding the acceptance of “books in good condition” and that then you should not accept materials that are not in useable condition. Require the donor to remove them and to dispose of them elsewhere. The library cannot afford to have materials sitting in the library that have mold, mildew or pests (especially insects or mice) in them.
Storage limits would probably prevent you from accepting everything offered to the library, but you should also consider how useful the material might really be in your collection. If your adult fiction collection, for example, has an average age of twenty-five years, then you really do not need more hardcover books that are also at least that old or close to it unless they are real gems! To be useful to a library, donated books need to be in good condition, be attractive to readers, and meet selection criteria including currency and “fit” in the collection. At least some of the following issues regarding gifts of materials and donations may need to be addressed directly in your policy. Many of these are things that simply need to be understood by those involved in the gift process at any level. It is especially important for the members of the library board to understand some of the implications of gifts prior to problems arising.
- Condition of materials: Increasingly libraries are putting statements such as “No materials will be accepted that are not in good, clean, useable condition” into their policy statements. Some libraries even explain what this means: “No materials should be brought to the library that contain any hint of mold, mildew, pests (insects or mice), highlighted text or other scribbling, or that smell strongly of tobacco smoke.”
- Appropriate formats: List the formats that the library is willing to consider for the collection. These may include books but not journals or magazines. You should not accept any audiovisual format that is not the original item produced for sale with the original labeling. Be selective about what AV formats you will accept. If you are gradually removing a format such as video cassettes list them as no longer acceptable for the library.
- Age of materials: If you do not want material of a certain type or material that is older than a certain age, state that in your policy. A typical example of this is encyclopedia sets, general reference sets, and textbooks. Many libraries restrict gifts of these materials to less than five years of age. It eliminates most such gifts but you could not add the older ones anyway and they are hard to sell as well. Religious tracts, devotional books, or materials intended for proselytizing rather than providing information about a particular religion are also typically excluded as gifts.
- Book sales: If your library or your Friends of the Library hold book sales, it is helpful to list when and where those donations will be accepted separate from the things being given for consideration for addition to the collections. Set the schedule for the year ahead of time. Advertise when the “collection dates and times” are approaching. Explain what is appropriate for the book sale rather than for the library. Many more people today expect that the library will put donated materials in the book sale. They would be appalled to discover how much time the library staff spends, sorting, hauling, storing, tossing, and generally dealing with their “used” books. The library staff can always peruse the sale material quickly and grab really good things for the collection before the sale begins.
- Periodicals: With the availability of growing numbers of online magazines and articles in databases, libraries seldom accept these items as gifts. Selling them at the book sale is seldom worth the time and effort of hauling, sorting and storing them. Many libraries have found that a bin or something in the lobby of the library can provide a great “exchange” spot for individuals to donate issues and to take issues of interest. This arrangement still needs some guidelines or you will have catalogs and “freebies” showing up there. This arrangement is usually very popular but it does take staff time to keep it in order and to toss those things that are inappropriate or that are not popular enough to encourage turnover with the stock.
- Entire collections: Gifts of entire collections can present special difficulties for libraries. If the local mayor wishes to give the library all of his official papers once he leaves office or if the local piano teacher decides to give the library her collection of sheet music, there are a number of exceptional costs to be considered. How will the library afford the space for such extensive materials? Who will organize (catalog) the materials? How will the library administer or provide access to the materials? One of the easiest ways to address such circumstances within the policy is merely to say that “large or extensive gifts of materials will be evaluated and accepted or rejected by the Board after consideration of the implications for library resources.” This takes the responsibility away from a single individual and enables there to be a thorough discussion of the long and short-term implications and costs.
- Cash, stocks, and other real property: Most libraries welcome gifts of cash, stocks, and other investment properties. However, the library will want to outline the circumstances under which such gifts will be accepted. Usually gifts of cash are accepted without restrictions. In other words, monetary donations are encouraged and the use to which these funds are directed will be determined by the library board. If a library has a foundation, then gifts can be directed to the foundation and the board and the by-laws of the foundation will govern the use of the funds or property. Cash gifts should not generally be used for operating expenditures but should be used to enhance the offerings of the library or for special projects.
- Bequests: A library foundation is usually a much better recipient of bequests than the library itself. A foundation helps to keep the interests of local officials as individuals or as a governmental body away from these library assets. However, if a foundation has not yet been formed and the library is notified by the attorney or executor representing a deceased person that the library has been bequeathed books, cash, or other property, the library board does have the right to refuse the bequest. If the library was not consulted prior to the finalization of the will, there are times when the bequest will be far too costly for the library to accept. It is also possible for the library board to negotiate with the attorney and/or the executor of the estate to change the terms of the bequest. If someone gives the library $10,000 but the terms of the will indicate that the money is only to be used for video cassettes, you will want to negotiate a change so that you can purchase DVDs or downloadable films not a dying format such as video cassettes. Sometimes individuals put restrictions of such gifts defining “who may use” the materials given or purchased with the bequest. The library is not going to accept such restrictions nor should the library accept terms such as “a separate room” or “a separate collection” unless it really is in the best interests of the rest of the community of users.
- Bookplates: The advice here is simple: do not use them if you can avoid them. If you have to use them because of “tradition” or whatever, be certain that they are glued on a page, even the verso of the title page is better than on the end papers of the cover. Once they are glued on the end papers it is almost impossible to remove them. If they are on a page that can be torn from the book at the time of withdrawal it is much easier to sell the book or to give it away. The reasons for avoiding bookplates are:
- The difficulty of removing a bookplate when the item is withdrawn
- Failing to get rid of the bookplate at all (a public relations nightmare!)
- The expectation by donors that the item will always be in the library
- The costs of the labor to type and glue the bookplates
- The costs of the labor to remove the bookplates
While all of the above considerations do not have to be stated in the policy, the librarian and the Board members should discuss such circumstances and come to general understandings regarding the potential for problems so that embarrassment can be avoided for both individuals and the library. When someone wants to dispose of the many stuffed game animals hanging on the walls of Uncle Fred’s cabin, the library is not likely to welcome such a gift. If a board member assures his or her nephew that the library would welcome such a solution, the librarian and the rest of the board will find themselves in an awkward position in saying quite the opposite.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Regulations
Tax laws have become increasingly complex. It is necessary for the library to be aware of how these regulations impact the process of gifts, both in terms of materials and in terms of cash. First, there are rulings by the U.S. Tax Court that need to be taken into consideration when acknowledging gifts of materials. A librarian, regardless of education and training, is not considered to be qualified to place a value on gift books and other used materials unless the librarian is a certified appraiser of such materials. In acknowledging gifts the library may indicate how many of what kind of material has been given (i.e., 10 trade paperbacks in excellent condition or 56 hand cover adult nonfiction books about animals) but the library cannot say how much such materials might be worth. Furthermore, material is considered used unless the library buys it directly. Even if the donor has not read the book, if they own it or just bought it and then gave it to the library, it is considered used. The Internet has made some of these issues easier because we can direct donors to a variety of websites (Acqweb, Amazon, Alibris and others) where used book values for many titles can be ascertained if the donor wishes to pursue a title-by-title valuation. Another approach is for the donor to determine what is considered the “fair market value” of the items donated. An individual is free to try to identify the average price for similar materials sold in the region by looking at used book stores, charity book sales and/or garage sales. Using the average asked for similar material is acceptable as the fair market value for those many undistinguished items. If a donor wishes to use the gift of materials as an income tax deduction it is up to them to determine a fair market value. If something is not in high demand, the fair market value is likely to be quite low. Older paperback romances, for example, might be sold for twenty-five cents each or five for a dollar.
If the gift is substantial and is expected to be valued at more than $500 but less than $5,000, the donor will need to complete and file an IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions. There are special regulations that also govern what the library can or cannot do with such gifts but for gifts valued at less than $5,000 there is little restriction. It is helpful to have a supply of these forms available at the library to be given to donors giving large gifts of materials simply as a customer service courtesy.
If the gift of materials, supplies, equipment, or furniture is likely to have a value for tax purposes of more than $5,000 than it is required that the donor gets an outside appraisal to be attached to Form 8283. A business person who sells similar types of items is usually willing to provide a fair market price estimate for the IRS on this form. In this instance, the form also needs to be signed by the representative of the library (director or board chair) indicating that they did receive the donation. These regulations change regularly but in general, the library is not allowed to sell or dispose of such gifts within the first five years. Every librarian needs to understand their obligations in this matter. If the donation consists of books, a good used bookstore can often provide the appraisal service for a fee or recommend someone else who is qualified to do it.
Local, Historic or Rare Materials
Gift items that might deserve special attention include books by local authors, local photographs of historical interest (if the subjects or places are not identified, perhaps some long-time residents might be able to lend a hand), yearbooks from local schools, local newspapers of historical importance, and local memorabilia. The section of this site concerning the selection of materials for Special Collections will provide further guidance in this area.
Keep in mind that old photographs may need special (possibly expensive) treatment to prevent them from deteriorating; color photocopies on acid-free paper may be a good option. Likewise, old newspapers and scrapbooks of newspaper clippings should probably be photocopied, laminated (in multiple pieces, if necessary) and/or microfilmed before they become useless. See the Preservation section of this site for more information.
Selling, Recycling, Giving Away Donations
Donations are often perfect candidates for book sales. If they are in good condition but don’t fit in your collection, don’t hesitate to put them to good use by raising money through a book sale. Since your gift policy should address the sale of donated books, this should be an acceptable option to all parties. Some libraries, especially schools, simply give away unwanted gifts and withdrawn items. In the case of free items, the library needs to be responsible regarding the destruction or recycling of books and other formats that contain truly outdated and misleading information and facts. Such items should be destroyed rather than given to someone who may not know the difference between good and bad information. This holds true also for the types of materials that should be offered to other libraries, especially those poorer than your own. Exercise your best professional judgment in these matters.
Encouraging the Best Possible Gifts
Some libraries hold “Buy a Book for the Library” or memorial campaigns that can result in many new additions to the collection. Many children’s collections are enhanced by “birthday” books purchased in honor of a child’s birthday each year. Grandparents, parents, or favorite aunts or uncles are key to these birthday campaigns. It is very important, however, to retain control over collection development. Donated memorial books must meet all the same criteria as any other donation or purchase. One strategy might be to provide a list of titles (chosen by the librarian) from which customers can select memorial books. It is also vital to be sure those campaigns do not become a replacement for regular adequate funding. Book plates are more appropriate here than for regular donated materials.
Other Ways to Involve the Public
This training site discusses many ways to include the community in the collection development process. Customers should be encouraged to participate in the selection process by requesting new materials, although final buying decisions should be made by the librarian. During a weeding project, you could seek the advice of knowledgeable patrons such as teachers, medical workers, or craftspeople to determine whether your materials measure up to current theoretical and practical standards. Theories, tools, and materials change as a result of advances in science and technology. While one might think that quilting is quilting, a modern quilter can tell you that the tools, the fabrics, the techniques and even the type of patterns have all changed substantially during the past ten years.
For Further Information
Gervasi, A.& Seibt, B. K. (1988). Handbook for small, rural and emerging public libraries. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.
Katz, Bill, ed. (1988). The How-To-Do-It manual for small libraries. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
Nelson, V. C. (1988). “Buried alive in gifts.” Library Journal, 113(7), 54-56.
Rogers, M. (2000). “How do you manage?” Library Journal, 125(6), 70-71.