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What do you do with old encyclopedias?

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Mar 9, 2009, 10:59am Top

I'm wondering if anyone else out there has this problem, and, if so, what do you do about it?

Our library doesn't accept donations of old magazines or encyclopedias, but that doesn't stop people from trying to leave them with us. Their major issue is that they feel these books (usually from the 1970's or earlier) are still good and still contain useful information so they don't want to just "throw them out". Our local recycling center won't accept them unless the covers are removed which, for a 30 volume encyclopedia, can be quite a task.

I'm wondering if anyone knows of any other (preferably earth-friendly) ways of disposing of the encyclopedias because people seem absolutely appalled when I suggest that they should probably just throw away their 1954 Britannica.

Mar 9, 2009, 11:48am Top

Maybe they can be sold or given away at the library, or donated to some organization.

The public library I used to work for would have us recycle unwanted books when we couldn't get rid of them. Taking off covers (AND the glue in the binding) is a pain, though. Some workers had to wear gloves. I can see why you want to find another way to dispose of them.

Mar 9, 2009, 11:53am Top

Oh, people just don't listen, do they? And they seem to think it's a sin to throw away a book. My library has this problem too but we're a special library so much smaller scale than you deal with. We accept the stuff (telling the donor that if we can't use it or give it away we will dispose of it) and then throw it away.

I also volunteer for an annual charity booksale and we say right up front on all the ads: Please DON'T donate National Geographics, encyclopedias, Readers Digest books or out-dated reference materials. Every year we throw out tons even before the sale. I have no idea why people think donating the manual for their old computer mouse (and not even including the mouse itself) is helpful. Or DOS manuals from the 1990s. Or their accounting text from university in the 1970s. Gah.

Sorry, I know this is not helpful - just venting and sympathy...

Mar 9, 2009, 12:42pm Top



The guy from the first site says, "I am interested in older hardback books that look better than they read. I prefer books with strong type on the cover and spine. Older encyclopedias with gilt type on the spines and embossed covers are always great. I will pay shipping to get certain books by arrangement."

Mar 9, 2009, 12:47pm Top

How cool! I kind of want one for myself now...

Thanks for sharing, timepiece.

Mar 9, 2009, 2:01pm Top

A free shelf is a wonderful thing. We accepted donations of books and magazines, many of them would end up in the Friends book shelf. But the magazines, encyclopedias, and just plain dirty books were put on a free shelf. And peole loved it!

Mar 9, 2009, 11:29pm Top

If your library does book sales, you might want to advertise/label these sorts of items as craft materials. In addition to the bookcase idea timepiece shared, there are a lot of instructions on sites like craftster for things like the purses made from books (for example), which require sturdy hardcover volumes. Lots of people are making altered books now as well, and they need sturdy books for that.
I think that some of the items that people donate would work better as raw materials for craft projects than read for their (out-of-date) information. For example, the library in my former town always had a box of outdated maps, and I collect those for various projects. One day a man came into the previous school library where I worked and was going on about how kids these days don't learn geography and so forth. He made a big show of donating a large stack of maps for this purpose - from the 1950's! I probably don't have to tell you that our social studies teachers didn't want to teach with maps of countries that don't even exist anymore (this was in 2007), so those went right home with me.
Also, I have heard (although I have no idea where I saw this) that there's a library that was cutting outdated hardcover books into different shapes and selling them for crafting purposes. Does anyone know more about this?

Mar 10, 2009, 6:25am Top

I've been tempted to use some of our discarded books to make a book lamp, but I've just never found the time. Those would be neat for the library silent auctions!

Mar 10, 2009, 10:59am Top

I've seen unwanted donations like this - suitably sealed up, re-covered and labelled - being re-used as bookends/shelf dividers within a school library. Works pretty well for, say, fiction collections organized alphabetically by author.

Anyway, just another idea that might keep them out of the waste stream for a while. (Possibly the encyclopedias would be too large for this though).

Mar 10, 2009, 8:44pm Top

Thanks for the suggestions! One of my colleagues told me about someone who takes the pages out of old books and makes purses with the cover. I thought that was kind of cool too. I'll have to find out how she does it. I never thought of using unwanted donations as craft material.

Apr 26, 2009, 10:39pm Top

I don't know how you'd get into contact with anyone specifically, but I do know that interior decorators use older encyclopedias and such to stage and decorate with. It is quite popular for interior designers to buy these books for the sheer "look" of them. My mom loves to decorate and one year, she wiped out the Readers Digest Condensed Books at the public library's old book sale.

Apr 26, 2009, 11:39pm Top

Pardon the intrusion (I'm not a librarian), but I think one innovative use would be to slice out the pages and use them to paper a bathroom. Seriously. Since people call it the "reading room" anyway, it would add a touch of whimsey and novelty, and give people the opportunity to lean something whilst they are taking care of business....

(Some sort of clear overcoating/sealant would probably be needed, and would give the effect a nice glossy quality.)

Apr 27, 2009, 12:23am Top

We recently got rid of 2 sets and I listed them on Craigslist. They were claimed and given to happy homes within a week.

Edited: Apr 27, 2009, 11:10am Top

We've found that old encyclopedias are hot items in the local church yard sales among our immigrant population, most of whom are Latin American or Southeast Asian. I asked a Honduran gentleman what he wanted with a 1970 edition of World Book Encyclopedias. He said that it would help the family learn English, kids and grandmas included. We sold the set for $5 and another set of 1957 Funk & Wagnells for the same amount to a family from Colombia for pretty much the same reason.

Apr 27, 2009, 2:00pm Top

I think the book lamp would be much better with a lamp shade bade out of book pages, rather than the standard Target lampshade.

Also, my parents found a great home for their two sets of Encyclopedias as well as their set of News Annuals to a family who is home schooling their kids.

Apr 27, 2009, 2:49pm Top

In the UK there is (or used to be) a style of pub/restaurant decoration in which old hard cover books, and other 'old-fashioned' paraphernalia, arranged dustily on hard to reach shelves and nooks, were used to establish a mood of maybe traditionalism, maybe scholastic probity, or maybe just kitsch.

Might be worth a few calls to interior designers? I hate to see any book thrown away!

Thinking even more laterally, into recycling, uniform-thickness encyclopedia volumes could be ideal for constructing sandwich-structure floors with sound-deadening properties, or even walls with fire-retarding (ablative) characteristics!

Apr 28, 2009, 1:26pm Top

A library I used to work out had success with their friends group selling some old books sets as a weekend auction (usually comparing prices on amazon). Might want to check if you got a collectible, as some old encyclopedias are.

Otherwise, the pictures are great for craft projects.

May 14, 2010, 8:53pm Top

I know this is an older message, but for any interested SCARCE bookrescue program in glen Ellyn takes all older books, encyclopedias, and National Geographic magazines. We recycle them to third world countries, or at the very worst, use a high tech recycling company that chips hardboard books and results in 99% paper production out of recycled books. I know many Libraries refuse them, but please refer them to us as we do not want anymore paper going into landfills. Ken.

May 14, 2010, 9:32pm Top

#18 - could you put some contact info on your profile page to help us find you if we think we might want to use your services. Thanks.

May 20, 2010, 5:55am Top

They are great for stuff like this:


May 29, 2010, 8:43am Top

Throw them away!

May 30, 2010, 12:22pm Top

Well, recycle - which here means tearing off all the covers - a great task for just the right 11 year old boy. eek

Edited: May 30, 2010, 12:26pm Top

Toss them down a manhole when no one's looking.

Edited to clarify: I meant the encyclopedias, not the 11 year old boys.

May 30, 2010, 12:52pm Top

We don't have manholes in Dixon. Or boyholes for that matter. eek

May 30, 2010, 7:02pm Top

Is eek a sound you make or your initials?

May 30, 2010, 7:47pm Top

Both. (depending on how many eee's)

Oct 11, 2010, 1:08pm Top

I am interested in doing this. COuld you please post some more info on how we can do this as I have a nice set of Americanas.

Oct 13, 2010, 9:02am Top

Are you kidding?? These old encyclopedias are still on my shelves...can't get the school district to cough up the money to update them. The other day a kid looked up Germany, and discovered there were two of them. 1988 New Book of Knowledge. My newest is a 1991 Americana, which I snagged from a public library that was getting rid of them. Discarded a 1977 World Book set last year. Gave them to the custodian with instructions they were to immediately go into the dumpster. The cafeteria lady saw them and took them. Sigh.

Oct 20, 2010, 9:29pm Top

This is an issue that drives me crazy. Our policy is that we do not accept encyclopedias or textbooks. We used to when I took over donations and after about 2 years I noticed they were not selling and taking up valuable space. Sometimes they still get in though and if that happens they go to recycling.

Oct 21, 2010, 2:34am Top

The dime room of my local library has had boxes of a 1960's era World Book encyclopedia taking up floor space for some weeks now. Save for the unlikely event that Nicholson Baker happens to wander through, they will probably sit there until the floor collapses.

Oct 28, 2010, 6:04am Top

I know that the internet is not the be all and end all - but #28 would you consider recommending Britannica Online? The full version is expensive, of course, but you can get a lot of good info free.

Incorrect information is not information - it is junk.

Oct 28, 2010, 12:45pm Top

We just weeded our 1988 World Book (we're a high school). I sent out a message to teachers in the off chance that one of them might be able to use it in their classroom and received (almost immediately) three replies!

Oct 28, 2010, 1:58pm Top

We actually have free access to Britannica Online, and it's great, and I teach my kids to use it also. The problem is that I have only 2 student computers in the library, making it impossible to teach an entire class. I have to teach that in the computer lab with the computer teacher; I also have to team teach with her to teach the kids how to use the OPAC. Better than nothing, but not ideal. A new library is underway sometime this year; hopefully next year I'll have A)new encyclopedias, and B) enough student computers to teach in my own room. Crossing fingers. :)

Oct 29, 2010, 3:17am Top

I've got some lovely 1950s encyclopaeidas that are really beautiful and have some historical interest but alas I don't have room to store them. Not sure what to do now, as I don't want to make them all into handbags!!

Oct 29, 2010, 1:44pm Top

Tear off the binding and recycle them.

I'm not sure what else could be done with them. If you are artistic, you could try to create something out of them I suppose.

This reference desk made of books comes to mind.

Oct 29, 2010, 2:44pm Top

I once made a sofa table out of books topped with a glass shelf. I didn't have any bookshelves so it just sort of happened. Looked good too. Wish I had a picture of it now.

Jan 10, 2015, 10:28am Top

Since the 20th century we have been under a large amount of censorship particularly involving the processes of synthesis and the processes of manipulating sulphur into sulphur oxide there are several forms of synthesis that are no longer considered up-to-date information but if you were an inventor or scientist even dangerous information is valuable just for its intellectual merit.

In the last hundred years many of the greatest scientific achievements have been composed around volatile reactions many of them used in the processes unfortunately of making destructive chemicals but the scientific value of the process so important. I guess what I'm saying is that although we call this the age of information when it comes down to it is really the age of censorship and any scientist/inventor would almost definitely have its own set of out of date encyclopaedias for this very reason.

I can appreciate that working in a library or commercial facility it's difficult to see any value in a book so old and out of date especially when it comes to working with the public so you're right. But I personally feel that we shouldn't really be throwing old encyclopaedias away as they will never be printed without censorship again. this is my personal opinion and as such it is probably wrong so just ignore me unless you feel constructive.

Jan 11, 2015, 11:47am Top

>37 Spgsamuel: it is really the age of censorship

Prove it. After the Supreme Court rulings of the 1950s to 1970s, the official ability of the US government to censor anything is minimal. Manning and Snowden demonstrated the ability of people to dump large amounts of information on the net that the government simply can't do anything about.

any scientist/inventor would almost definitely have its own set of out of date encyclopaedias for this very reason.

Really. For no discipline that I'm deeply concerned with would I turn to an EB of any date for information. You're seriously telling me that given a choice to refer to a 1962 EB or a 1962 CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, a competent scientist or inventor of any stripe would prefer the first?

they will never be printed without censorship again

Encyclopedias will never be printed again, period. The Encyclopedia Britannica store offers as encyclopedias for adults the 1768 edition and a French encyclopedia; no 21st century Britannica to be seen.

Jan 12, 2015, 2:41pm Top

>37 Spgsamuel: *head against desk* If you, or anyone would like Public Libraries not to throw out encyclopedias that are horribly out of date, feel free to find us all the space that we'll need to keep it (or any of the other books that everyone gets all in a tizzy about us recycling/giving away). Hell, most of the freakin' public thinks that we should just close anyway... so, keeping horribly out of date/wrong encyclopedias on the shelves instead of their Janet Evanovich and James Pattersons... not ever going to happen.

Not to mention, old encyclopedias also have horribly, horribly wrong information in them more often than not as well. Not because of 'censorship', but because we've learned in the last 70, 50, 30, or whatever years.

Feb 17, 2015, 8:16pm Top


Feb 17, 2015, 8:26pm Top

I have a complete set of American encyclopaedias that are 120 years old. They are in rough shape but still readable. I received them from my father. What should I do with them? I think they are really interesting, however, my wife says to toss them.

Feb 17, 2015, 8:52pm Top

I suspect that, since you say the condition's rough, you'll discover that those books are not really worth anything. Here's some places where you can search for their values:

http://www.abaa.org/ (Antiquarian Booksellers)
http://www.alibris.com/ (Alibris is not easy to search)
http://www.alibris.com/books/rare-collectible (best link for them)
http://www.biblio.com/ (Bilio is one of my favorites)
http://rarebooks.blackwell.co.uk/rarebooks/ (Pricey, but some of the rarest books are found there)

There are very few books in other than at least fair condition that are worth anything, unless they are extremely rare. Encyclopedias, even from the late 1800s, aren't (to my knowledge) in that class.

Good look with your search.

I love old books (I have a LOT of them), but if you keep them, keep them because they were your father's (if you have the room).

Feb 17, 2015, 11:25pm Top

Bad information isn't worth the paper it's printed on; indeed, whatever it is, it isn't really information. Toss them. You might want to tear out pages with pretty pictures first. Use them on bulletin boards, perhaps.

Edited: Feb 18, 2015, 10:43am Top

I regret throwing out my Grandma's 1957 Funk & Wagnall Encyclopedias, just because I love history. It's interesting to see what people considered valuable information at the time and how wrong or right it's become in the intervening years.

Feb 18, 2015, 11:26am Top

Is there an art class somewhere who could use them to produce some of the great book art that can be seen around the Internet.

Feb 18, 2015, 5:13pm Top

Looking at the links that Lyndatrue posted, I would suggest one of the aggregate sites that searches several databases at once. I especially like:


It searches almost all of the databases available (except perhaps eBay or etsy) and you can sort the results by price.

When searching, be specific enough but not too specific. A last name, title key words, and word from the publisher or year will usually zero in on the books you seek.

Always remember that the prices listed are copies that have not sold, often because of price. One interpretation is that these are the lowest prices at which the books won't sell. The copies sold disappear and the sale information is not available as a price guide.


Jun 17, 9:37am Top

If anyone is looking to get rid of a nice encyclopedia set I am looking for one. I have a child that is described as a genius; he literally loves to consume everything he can get his hands on; he values nestolgic perspectives, it helps him understand the times.

Jun 20, 12:20am Top

There was a free book exchange box in Chicago on Chicago Ave. where almost everything was gone by the next day regardless of its age or usefulness. I think homeless people would use the paper for fire or possibly toilet paper, but after years of donating and seeing the most ridiculous titles in there, I'm still not sure where and why they all went so quickly.

Jun 21, 9:09am Top

>47 romulous2: As we have no information about you other than a username and what you have posted above, it's hard to respond to your request. If you are anywhere near where I live (check my profile page), I do have a set of Britannica's from the 1990's I'd like to send to a good home. I've been trying to find someone who wants them for arts and crafts, but no takers at the moment.

Jun 21, 11:43am Top

I'd love to have them but I'm too far away.

Edited: Jun 21, 11:46am Top

>49 laytonwoman3rd: Hmm. Did you see this thread? https://www.librarything.com/topic/258410

There might be a good match there. ;-)

Jun 21, 11:55am Top

>51 davidgn: Thanks!

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