The research is undeniable.
Additionally, if you ask most writers what makes them great at their craft, you’re likely to hear one thing over and over again: great writers are great readers.
But there’s a problem.
Books are expensive. And if you want to own more than just a handful, books are really expensive.
Of course, there are libraries—about which I really can’t sing enough praise—where people can access books electronically and in print. But what if you want to create a permanent library for yourself or others? Maybe you are a teacher. But maybe you are looking to put together a collection of books for your children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews. Maybe you simply want to create a Free Little Library for your neighborhood.
You probably want to do so for as little cost as possible. But it can seem impossible to find cheap books. After striking so much gold this past year at back-to-school time, I’m here to tell you that it’s not.
Here are some methods that you can use to find cheap books and free books for your personal library. It’s worth nothing that all of these methods likely won’t work for everyone all the time, but rotating through a combination of them should help you score some cheap books for your library.
Scheduled Library Book Sales
Most libraries have yearly or semi-yearly book sales. Typically, libraries are selling ex-copies from their inventory, as well as any books that have been donated by the general public. Since most libraries put out a call for donations, the inventory at these sales tends to be quite large. That means that there is a lot of potential for finding cheap books. It is also worth remembering that most of the book sales are public events for at least some of the time. That means that even if you aren’t a library card holder, you can shop. If you live near several libraries, it’s worth checking out their events calendars or making note of any signage you might see on your commute.
For Sale Shelves at the Library
So you’re reading this post, and you’re inspired to check out your library’s calendar on their home page. The book sale was last month. So what do you do? Fret not. Many libraries keep a designated space all year where they are selling used books. Though the selection can be much more limited than during scheduled book sales, I’ve also noticed that prices tend to be a little cheaper. It’s also worth noting that I’ve known teachers who let their local libraries know that they are looking to add to their library and the library has given them some books for free. If you happen to score free books from your library, you could always make a small donation of $5, $15, or whatever amount of money you had considered spending.
The Dollar Tree
That’s right. The Dollar Tree. Now, this suggestion might actually be the proverbial needle in the haystack, but someone has to come across it eventually, right?
I would not go out of my way to check The Dollar Tree for the sole purpose of scoring cheap books. However, if you, like many teachers, believe that The Dollar Tree is the lifeblood of back-to-school time—or really any school time—then you’re probably already a regular there anyway. In that case, look at the books!
I know, I know. Sometimes, it’s a disaster. If I’m being totally frank, most of the times, the selection at the locations that I frequent most often look like romance novel rejects, self-help gurus that couldn’t, and similar castoffs. But there could be hidden treasure. Just this week, I found several popular middle reader and YA titles that my students love, plus two new-to-me titles by authors that I already enjoy. For $5 total? It was a serious cheap book win!
Family and Friends
Though I know there is probably no faster way to lose your followers on social media than to try to convince them to buy nail wraps that double as decals for leggings (it’s not a thing, but really, why not?) from your MLM group, I do think that this is absolutely a request you can float to friends and families. Letting them know that you are looking to build a library to see if they have any gently used books is an excellent way to get your hands on free books or cheap books.
RELATED POST: Stop Asking Everyone to Buy Things
Social Media Marketplaces
Perhaps you don’t want to ask family and friends. Or maybe you already did! You can use social media marketplaces to score other cheap books. As much as NextDoor is a thorn in my side (for the 12th time, it’s not a lost parakeet, Debra, it’s a goldfinch), I do think there’s some utility to it. Letting your neighbors know that you are looking to grow your classroom library is sure to inspire goodwill. This is especially true if you live in the same community that you teach in. Who wouldn’t want to help their schools and declutter at the same time? You could also place similar ISO requests on Facebook Marketplace or Bookoo. I would also highly recommend placed a wanted posting on Freecycle if it is active in your area. People’s generosity there is really remarkable.
For far too long, I did not take the name of Half Price Books at face value. I kind of figured that they would be a lot like those dollar stores that claim to be dollar stores but nothing inside actually costs a just dollar. But Half Price Books can be a goldmine for cheap books for your library. They source their books differently than other bookstores, so you might end up with gently-used books or new books that are being published with a different cover or that have slightly bent covers or spines. But if you can land a popular book for less than half the list price, I think that’s worth overlooking. It is also worth noting that Half Price Books offers terrific coupons to all shoppers, as well as an educator discount.
If you have read any of my decluttering posts on the blog, you know that I am big on finding ways to lessen my environmental impact while still saving money. Finding books at second-hand shops is a great way to do that. In the past, I tended to avoid Goodwill because their prices never seemed low enough for the quality or (not) currency of the books. Do my students want to read the 7th book in the Sweet Valley High Series with the 1988 cover for $5? In a word….no. There are a few local thrift stores and charity shops, though, that have had some gems this past year. I wouldn’t make a special trip to visit them, but if I’m running errands nearby, I’ll pop in to continue the hunt for cheap books.
Final Thoughts on Finding Free Books and Cheap Books
There’s no greater career than teaching. I feel so fortunate—even on the bad days—to have a job that I love. Being passionate about what you do is a great feeling to wake up to each morning. But there’s no denying that being a teacher can also be really costly.
While I still don’t have the solution for finding cheap dry erase markers
that stand the test of time the sheer strength of my students who manage to jam the tips in every time they use them, I do know that it is possible to build your classroom library for a lot less than you would think. Free books and cheap books exist. Hopefully these tips will help you track them down. Now how do I create a time machine to tell myself this a decade ago?
So Tell Me…Have you ever had a reason to hunt down free or cheap books?