Buy the Book? Making Book Choices That Do More Good & Less Harm

I absolutely adore reading. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and I love stories of all sorts (which is why I also love movies). My babysitter taught me to read (and potty trained me at the same time) by plopping me down on the toddler pot with a bunch of books. (Sorry if that’s TMI.)

Books have a fond place in my heart, but I almost never buy them anymore, because I’m not fond of the environmental impact and because I live in a tiny house. It takes a lot of resources (and kills a lot of trees) to produce and transport books; they take up space in your home, and then there’s the issue of what to do with them when you’re ready to let go of them. So what are some options for doing the most good/least harm when it comes to books? Here are several suggestions:

For books you don't need to buy:

As a former and still occasional librarian, of course I’m going to recommend that you check out your local library as your primary source for tasty reading material. If your particular library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, there are often library-sharing options available. You can also get most any title you want through Interlibrary Loan (your library borrows the item from another library, and then you borrow it from your library). If you haven’t been to a library in awhile, you might be surprised at all the materials and resources you have to choose from (some libraries even make it possible to download books to listen to on your computer or mp3 player). Of course, there are options like borrowing from a friend or hosting a book swap.

For when buying is the only option:

If it has to be brand spanking new (e.g., because it’s a gift), then try to buy it from an independent book store rather than one of the big chains. You can also look for books made with recycled paper.

If it doesn’t have to be in pristine condition, thrift stores and used book stores can often provide the book you want. You get a lower price, and you’re helping give the book another life. Most libraries have used book sales at least once a year (and some have a section in the library where you can buy retired materials). And, there are plenty of online options for finding used books (just search for "used books" and you'll get a slew of hits); you can even find textbooks for school!

Online book sharing and swapping sites like Book Mooch and Book Crossing mean that you can give away books and get books from others. Plus, it’s fun to share.

And, if you're a technoholic there's always the electronic book option.

For when you're done with your book:

When you’re ready to pass your book on, there are plenty of choices, from sharing it with friends or family, to swapping or selling it, to donating it to your local library’s used bookstore or to a thrift store. There are also social entrepreneurship businesses like Better World Books, which collect used books and sell them in order to fund literacy programs, and plenty of non-profit programs that seek to collect books and share them with people who need them.

If your book isn’t in reusable condition, then you can contact your local recyclers to see if it can be recycled. If it can’t, then consider searching online for art project ideas (ones that are actually useful, not ones that will just add to your collection of stuff).

To help make eco-friendly choices available on a broader level, you can also contact organizations like the Green Press Initiative and Eco-Libris to find out how to encourage book publishers to make sustainable choices.

Of course, there is something positive in buying the books of authors we want to support and in having books at home that we know we’ll refer to repeatedly. We can just make sure our book choices are conscious ones.

~ Marsha

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