Reduce & Reuse

Have you ever wondered what a big library like the Library of Congress might do with all the books they don’t need anymore? Well a couple of weeks ago I was able to find out with a tour through the Surplus Books Program!

Touring different divisions at the Library is one of my favorite highlights of being a Junior Fellow. With an institution so large, each task needs it’s own department in order to handle the volume of materials, which is unlike the processes I am used to from the smaller libraries. This was certainly true of Surplus Program – we toured there for almost two hours, there were so many books, as well as so much to discuss!

When a book first reaches the Surplus Program, it usually gets sorted into one of two groups: domestic use or international use. Books that are sorted for international use are usually works of a research-nature that are published by a university press, and books sorted for domestic use can range from children’s books to cookbooks to fiction, and everything in-between.

Now, it is more complicated than this, but nations can choose to participate in a book-swapping program with the Library of Congress. So when a book gets sorted for international use, it gets entered into a database where other nations can then browse and select the books they want. They just pay for shipping, and agree to send the Library books of theirs in return!

The domestic program is also really neat. All of the books selected for domestic use are loosely sorted by genre onto browse-able shelves. Any government agency, educational institution, or non-profit organization can send a representative to walk through the stacks and select whichever books they like. Unlike the international program, these books do not live in a database, and these agencies are not expected to give a book in return. They do however still have to pay for shipping if they want to send boxes of books back to their home state.

Learning that the Library of Congress uses their extra books to strategically build up the collections of other libraries was very intriguing and inspiring to learn from. I am excited to continue learning about other interesting programs during my time here!

You can read more about the Surplus Books Program here.