The holidays are times of plenty, and that leaves us, in January, with plenty of cleaning up to do.

If you’re using the New Year to empty out closets and freshen up bookshelves, you’re probably hoping to give some of your old books a new home.

The bad news is, you may have to finally part with that copy of War and Peace you read in college. The good news? Locally, there are plenty of places eager to adopt your once treasured tomes.

Unlike, say, your grandmother’s china or that collector’s edition Beanie Baby you purchased in the 1990s, the market for used books remains strong. In fact, used bookstores rely on old books to stock their shelves and attract customers. And libraries are always willing to accept book donations for periodic fundraiser book sales that bibliophiles flock to.

Giving Books New Life

“Our primary business is giving books a 10th, 11th or 12th chance,” said David Bucy, who with his wife, Elizabeth, owns Bramble Books (formerly Indian Path Books) at 514 Ridge Road in Spring City.

If you’re worried that your beloved volumes will wind up in the garbage bin, fear not. Local bookstores make a concerted effort to find a new home for the books they accept. At Bramble Books, when customers bring in boxes of books, Bucy pores through them and accepts only those he knows will sell.

And if they don’t sell? He sets them on the one dollar table, or even, as a last resort, offers them for free. Periodically he donates them to charitable organizations.

Likewise, Starr Books (also knows as Gently Used Books), with locations in Douglassville and Royersford, has a mission to find homes for old books.

“We don’t throw anything away here. Everything goes to someone,” said Starr Books Manager Jeanine Saylor.

Many of their unsold children’s books are donated to literacy programs that rely on donations. Libraries, too, take old books for book sales.

Recently Starr boxed up a large quantity of adult reads for Operation Paperback, which sends the books to American troops overseas.

“It’s a big network,” Starr owner Rebecca Cinti said of the used book market. “We all try to help each other out.”

What about Old Textbooks?

As it turns out, there are some books that have no value for readers. Old textbooks, obsolete medical and law volumes, and that set of encyclopedias your parents or grandparents scrimped and saved for and proudly displayed on shelves for decades.

While those no longer have any resale worth, old encyclopedias were often printed on high quality paper, said Saylor. That makes them prime recyclables.

“Schools that have paper recyclers profit when you take (old encyclopedias) to them,” Saylor said.

Starr Books has a paper recycler on hand. So do some schools and churches in the area, as well as Opportunity House, in Reading.

Other books bound for the recycling bin are those that are damaged, yellowed, broken or torn.

“They have to be clean, have no odor, and in good condition,” said Carol Rauch, manager of Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester.

Old and Antique Books

Most used bookstores in the area don’t deal in antique books. The exception is Baldwin’s Book Barn, located in a 25,000 square foot former dairy barn at 865 Lenape Road in West Chester. Among its many treasures is a locked room filled with old Quaker books and other antiquities.

Rauch said people often bring in old books to sell.

“We price them if they are rare,” she said, but warned, “the majority are not valuable.”

At Starr Books, Saylor advises people who think they have a rare book to check its value online, or contact an antique dealer.

Bramble Books keeps some old books on hand for decorators. Even if they have no inherent value, tomes that date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries often have attractive bindings that add appeal to bookshelves.

What you’ll get in return

Most used bookstores give customers store credit for the books they bring in. Some also give cash, although that’s less common, and more limited.

At Bramble Books, the owners may pay cash for books in good condition and that are sought after, particularly on local history or genealogy. For the most part, customers will get credit to purchase items in the store, totaling 50 percent of what Bramble will sell the books for.

Baldwin’s Book Barn has a similar system, giving credit for most books, but cash for something unique or in demand.

Both Starr Books and the Book Nook, in Boyertown, give credit that customers can use for half their total purchase.

Libraries accept only donations, so there’s no exchange policy. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring books to your local library.

At Chester County Library, in Exton, the Friend’s Group holds book sales in the spring and fall, stocking it primarily with donated items. Many other libraries in the area have sales, as well. And those are crucial fundraisers, said Amy Suveg, public relations specialist for Chester County Library.

“It directly impacts our library and our services,” she said. “A book sale can raise $20,000, and that supports our children’s programs, museum passes and other services.”

How to spend your store credit

Perhaps the best part of trading in your old books is making room on shelves for other books. At Bramble Books, the Buces estimate they have 50,000 titles on every subject imaginable, spread over multiple rooms.

For bibliophiles, being surrounded by books and hunting for something unique is part of the joy of meandering through a used bookstore.

“Like most used bookstores, we probably don’t have the book you came in looking for, but you’ll find three others you didn’t know you needed,” said David Buce.

If you take your books to Baldwin’s Book Barn, you might want to plan to spend the day there. According to their website, the old stone barn is “stuffed to the rafters with a treasure trove of 300,000 used and rare books, manuscripts, maps as well as fine paintings, prints, estate antiques, and other valued collectibles.”

With a fire crackling, beautiful scenery outside and the delightful smell of old books within, Rauch insists “It’s unique, all your senses are activated.”

Starr Books and Book Nook also boast thousands of old titles, and they sell some new books, too, for people looking to buy best sellers that aren’t yet available used.

Cinti, of Starr Books, has found that books often have strong sentimental value for readers. That, she says, is the best reason for people to bring their old books to a used bookshop.

“We have people come to us and they’re so excited when they find an out of print book that they remember reading but could never find again,” Cinti said.

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