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What Can I Do With Used Reference Books? 5

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Encyclopedias are nearly obsolete these days, which makes them harder to donate. Here are some ideas of what to do with your set. 

Updated On 07/24/2018 | Originally Published On 12/13/2016

Dear Recyclebank: I have a set of Britannica encyclopedias that is in very good shape. My problem is, I cannot find anybody who wants them, not even libraries, schools, or bookstores. Any ideas? –Debbie S.

Dear Debbie: In the age of Google and Wikipedia, reference books like encyclopedias and dictionaries have become less and less in demand. It seems like you’ve already tried some of the donation places that we normally recommend, such as finding a local recipient like a library or school. And in our research we found that, indeed, many book-donation organizations, like the Prison Book Program, specify that they do not accept reference books like encyclopedia.

To help you find a good home for your well-maintained reference books, we came up with a few other options for you to try:

1. Books for Africa collects new and gently used books to stock libraries and schools in Africa. You can ship them or deliver them to their locations in Atlanta, GA. or St. Paul, MN. (And reference books are among the types of titles they’re specifically seeking!)

1. Better World Books has drop-boxes across the country. The books that are donated are sold on their website, and the proceeds help fund literacy programs.

2. is a great resource for more than just books, and will connect you with local organizations that will accept your goods.

3. Your local homeless shelter may want the books. In some cities, shelters have set up libraries to ensure that the children staying there have access to reading material.

4. Post your books on a give-away site like Freecycle.

5. Check with your recycler to see if they accept books for recycling (even though they’re mostly paper, the covers and bindings mean that sometimes they’re not accepted in your curbside bin.)

If you can’t find a way to donate your old reference books in their current form, consider using them in a craft or decorating project. We’ve seen ideas like using books as a base for a coffee table or other furniture, making wall art by printing graphic images on reference book pages, and carving a secret compartment into a book. Or search the Internet for some of the many fun ideas to create in the ever-growing art form of altered books.

While encyclopedias may be a dying breed, hopefully you’ll find a good way for your collection to have a second life, whether it’s on someone else’s bookshelf, or as part of a fun craft project!

Have you had success selling, donating, or repurposing reference books? Share your story in the comments below. 

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

  • j B. 2 hours ago
    As a librarian speaking, please do not give old encyclopedias to schools, libraries or anywhere they would be used as a reference. Old encyclopedias are outdated and will contain misinformation. However, they make great items for recycling!
  • Sabrina G. 2 days ago
    Also, you can usually donate your books to a local public library. Whatever they don't use will go into their booksales and the money will go to buy more books for the library shelves!
  • Douglas F. 21 days ago
    Anyone worried about something as small and quickly degradable as a coffee filter should have a compost pile. Put the filter containing the grounds in the compost. They both degrade probably faster than anything else in the pile and contain good nutrients (especially the grounds). If the simplest, fastest, most effective way to ecologically dispose of coffee filters is too hard for you, then toss them in the trash, and I suggest you spend your efforts on bigger problems. Wherever they go, coffee filters are small damp pieces of paper that will degrade quickly and completely without any harmful effects.
  • Wilifred A. 26 days ago
    Go to and check out, "30+ Awesome Artworks You Won’t Believe Were Once Dusty Old Books on a Shelf." The best examples come from reference books.
  • Ann E. 1 month ago
    I have a set of encyclopedias dating back to 1980 that, unfortunately, pets have chewed, urinated on, you name it. Am at my wit's end & ready to just toss them, they're disgusting!
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