Pictured is a current Friends of the West Bloomfield Township Public Library store and another area, where the store is expected to expand.

Pictured is a current Friends of the West Bloomfield Township Public Library store and another area, where the store is expected to expand.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Pandemic floods groups with used books in West Bloomfield

Friends member raises concerns about donated used books surplus

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 11, 2021

 Pictured is an area where donated books are stored and organized in the basement of the West Bloomfield Township Public Library. Library Director Cathy Russ stated that there has been an “immense flood of donations” to libraries.

Pictured is an area where donated books are stored and organized in the basement of the West Bloomfield Township Public Library. Library Director Cathy Russ stated that there has been an “immense flood of donations” to libraries.

Photo by Deb Jacques


WEST BLOOMFIELD — According to West Bloomfield resident Linda Babcock, she has been a loyal member of the Friends of the West Bloomfield Township Public Library since 1999, and she has made it a habit to donate many used books to the facility over the years.

Last summer, she had a big load of books she had collected during the pandemic that she decided to take to the library to drop off for a used book sale.

Babcock happened to be there when volunteers were unloading a bin, and what she observed caught her off guard.

“I was aghast, because they kept tossing the books in the garbage,” she said. “They’d pull them out of the box, toss them in the garbage; pull them out of the box, toss them in the garbage. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute.’ I was going crazy.

“They said, ‘We just have too many. We can’t deal with all these books, so we tossed them. … We don’t have the manpower to deal with it, so they go in the garbage,’” Babcock said.

According to Library Director Cathy Russ, the Friends, which is a separate organization from the library itself, provides invaluable support to the library through fundraising and volunteer efforts, and it held two book sales per year before the pandemic.

She said the flood of used book donations has been a common problem for many library Friends groups, even prior to the pandemic.

“Post-pandemic, there’s been an immense flood of donations to libraries (all those books read during lockdown) because people stored them up so they could donate them to libraries,” Russ stated via email. “Some Friends groups still aren’t accepting donations. The Friends of the West Bloomfield Library were inundated with calls last spring and early summer to start accepting donations, and the Friends responded by starting to accept donations in June.”

Russ pointed out something that has made things even more challenging for the Friends.

“Unfortunately, due to the pandemic last year, the Friends were not able to have either of their annual sales, so their storage space was already quite full,” she stated. “We have not been able to have a book sale this year at the West Bloomfield Library because the library’s meeting room is being updated this fall — a project that was delayed due to the pandemic and supply chain and labor shortages. We’re hoping to have the meeting room ready to be open to the public again by January. That means the Friends could have a book sale again in the winter months, depending of course on what is happening with the pandemic.”

What caught Babcock by surprise is the kind of material that was going into the garbage.

“I go to the main branch. They have a big donation bin, and it says on there they won’t take, let’s say, magazines, textbooks or reference material that’s very old. And certain things I get, like if you’ve got dusty, old, musty books out of grandma’s attic — maybe those actually are garbage. But I had some beautiful hardbacks, and they tossed them in the garbage.”

Russ addressed the kind of donations that could be discarded.

“The Friends often receive donations that are musty (perhaps have been in a basement that flooded); smell like mold or smoke; or are bug-infested. They use their judgement to determine what can be recycled and what must be discarded,” she stated. “The bug-infested items are always thrown away, for example.”

Following her observations, Babcock contemplated her next move.

“I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. I’m taking these back.’ I put them back in my box and I took them away, because I couldn’t stand the thought of them going in the garbage,” she said.

A couple of Babcock’s ideas are to have a free bin or give them to a school.

She also offered a suggestion to a couple volunteers who “weren’t feeling happy that they had to do this.”

“They said, ‘We’re just volunteers; there’s only so much we can do,’” Babcock said. “I said, ‘What about online book sellers?’ They said, ‘Well, that’s a lot (of) work to catalog it, take a picture of it, mark it, sell it, wrap it up (and) send it.’ They said, ‘It’s just too much work,’ (and) they don’t have the manpower for that.”

According to Russ, a recycling program is in place.

“Steve Swarin of Friends contacted GFL recycling and put in place a program where both hardcover and softcover books are recycled on a weekly basis,” she stated. “GFL provides bins and comes and picks them up. The Friends usually recycle items that are not in good condition (torn covers, missing pages; generally unsightly).”

Russ also stated that the library has a list of community groups it donates materials to regularly.

“But an issue often is that organizations aren’t able to come pick them up, and the Friends don’t have many volunteers who are able to load several heavy boxes of materials, drive them to a drop-off point and unload them,” she stated.

Babcock shared what she has been doing with used books she wants to donate.

“I have started donating my books to Goodwill, Purple Heart or Little (Free) Libraries, with people who have those Little Libraries in their neighborhoods,” she said.

Babcock discussed her rationale for why she was so surprised about what she witnessed this past summer.

“I guess I just thought that the library is a place where they cherish books … so it was just shocking to me that the place I hold dear, the library, my favorite place, where I thought books were cherished, were actually being treated the opposite — treated as trash.”

Russ shared a piece of news that could go a long way toward improving the situation.

“To assist Friends in addressing this overstock situation, the library has worked with Friends, and I am excited to announce that the Friendshop in the main library’s lobby is being renovated to provide more space for the Friends to sell books on an ongoing basis. In other words, the Friends will be able to sell books regularly (daily, weekly) from the Friendshop, instead of having to wait to have a twice-yearly sale,” she stated.

Babcock said she still uses the library for borrowing books and may donate there again.

“Maybe I would like for them to make it more clear as to what they are and aren’t accepting, because I told this story to my friends and they said, ‘What? I didn’t know that,’” she said.

Russ said the Friends is a volunteer group of library lovers.

“I think it is important to remember that the Friends of the West Bloomfield Public Library are volunteers,” she stated. “They are not paid by the library to sort through donations, store materials or run book sales. … They want to serve the community by making these book sales happen and giving the community the opportunity to read some great books at low prices. … The library and the Friends work together to provide services to the community, and many of the library’s services, especially programs and collections, are enhanced thanks to the generosity of the Friends.”

Babcock said she doesn’t want to “slam” the Friends because they are an important group at the library.

She discussed her primary objective.

“I don’t think people know, and people feel like I did, like, ‘Oh, we’re doing something good, contributing to the growth of the library.’ In fact, it felt like I’m creating a burden on them by giving them these donations that they just have to somehow deal with,” Babcock said. “So, maybe just raise awareness, I guess, is what my main goal is.”

Russ advocated for the role Friends plays for the West Bloomfield Township Public Library.

“While I can’t speak directly to what Ms. Babcock witnessed, I hope this gives some perspective as to the full scope of what the dedicated Friends volunteers have to address on a regular basis,” she stated. “I know that the Friends are committed to recycling, repurposing, donating and reselling as much as they possibly can, and I admire these dedicated volunteers for all they do for the library and the community. My advice to anyone who is concerned would be to speak directly with the Friends and get involved to see how they can help with this great cause. We can always use more Friends.”