The used book section where I work is like a no-kill shelter for books. Customers can take old, unwanted books, that have become too burdensome to continue caring for, to our store. It's not that
these books are totally unloved, otherwise they may have been thrown away without a second thought. Instead, our book-loving customers do the right thing and bring these books to us so that we may find them new homes.
When a used book is brought in we do a once-over to make sure it is well-behaved, gets along with the other books, and will be safe to expose to the general public. If it has had too hard a life, it will
be sent to a local library, where they put the book out at one of their book sales. From that point we can only hope the book is retired to a quiet home to live out the remainder of its days with an
If the book is deemed fit for our customers it goes out to the sales floor, where we take good care of it until a new owner comes in to claim it. We're sure to put the books where we think they'll be most likely to find a new home. For example, we'd never mix history and fiction books, otherwise we know fights would break out. Jane Eyre and Stalin never could get along. Where space allows, we also separate hardcovers from paperbacks, so that the youngest don't steal all of the thunder from their elders. I could tell you countless horror stories about the latest hardcover from Patterson picking fights with old copies of Sherlock Holmes. Hardcover books can be terrible bullies, especially in Mystery, but they can't be blamed for what is in their nature.
For the most part, we'll look after those books for as long as it
takes for them to find new homes, browsing them ourselves, offering words of encouragement, and giving recommendations. Sometimes a book will sit on our shelves for so long, we'll spotlight it, we'll offer bargains, and we'll put it right up front. If even all that fails, after years of loving attention, we either send the book to a library book sale, or donate it to a local cause. Sometimes it can take up to four years to match a book to its perfect owner. For books like
Roadside Geology of Alaska, it may take some extra time and attention, but I'm confident an Alaskan geologist will wander into our store any minute now. The moment of tearful amazement when that happens will be epic: a match that was meant to be.
So when you find yourself browsing your home shelves for something fun to read, don't look upon those older books with guilt. Understand that you did your best, but sometimes books just don't get as much attention as they need. Pack them up with care and love, give them a final flip through for goodbye, and then bring them to your local used bookstore. They'll do their best to get them safely and happily to a new home.