Local book donations down this year
July 1, 2009
When three blue book collection bins appeared in North Bend, Penny Humphrey did not think to give them a second thought.
As President of the Friends of the North Bend Library, Humphrey was more concerned with organizing library programs with money earned from the library’s annual two-week book sale. Normally, the friends fill more than 200 large boxes with donated books they then sell at their annual sale. The sales are a boon to the library and its patrons; by selling books with prices as low as 50 cents, the friends have raised about $5,000 each of the last two years.
This year, however, the friends have noticed a drop in donations. Instead of 200 boxes of books, the group only has 120 boxes for its Aug. 15-29 sale.
There are a number of factors that could be affect the drop in donations, Humphrey said. With the slumping economy, people may be holding onto their books, instead of donating them. This past year, Mount Si High School collected 10,000 books for Ugandan students, but Humphrey said she does not think the friends’ donations were down because of the Ugandan drive.
It was then that the blue book donation bins by Safeway and the 76 gas station on North Bend Way caught her eye. Could people be donating their books to Reading Tree, instead of the friends?
Reading Tree initially began in 2000 as the Massachusetts nonprofit “Hands Across the Water.” Its founder Jane Miller Webber had worked as an attorney with the US Air Force and knew how to find space for books for children on military aircraft going overseas.
Soon, Webber decided to focus on donating books to American children, as well as international youth, and changed the organization’s name to Reading Tree. By partnering with the for-profit company Thrift Recycling Management, Reading Tree soon had blue collection bins across the country. There are 300 in Washington alone.
Executive Director of Reading Tree John Barger reported 51 percent of all its donations are pulped and recycled because they are missing covers, have water damage or contain graffiti or inappropriate material. Reading Tree’s partner, Thrift Recycling Management collects about one-fourth of the donated books and sells them online to offset Reading Tree’s costs. This leaves about one quarter of its books for children.
Many of Reading Tree’s books are sent to Title I schools — schools with high rates of low-income students who receive reduced or free lunches. Reading Tree also donates its books internationally and to organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs and United Way.
While Humphrey applauded them for their work, she pointed out that neither Snoqualmie Valley libraries nor Snoqualmie Valley schools receive donations from Reading Tree.
The closest areas receiving donations are schools and programs in Kent, Renton and Bellevue, Barger said.
Ryan Scott, vice president of the Boys & Girls Club of Bellevue, commended Reading Tree for its donations of 4,000 books to its 12 locations over the years.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have them as a partner,” Scott said. “Literacy is a huge priority for us both in our after-school program and our summer incentive reading program. We want to make sure we’re doing everything to support and encourage literacy.”
The Friends of the Library encourage literacy too, and, as Humphrey pointed out, its profits benefit local residents.
Using the money from its book sale, Friends of the Library invests in programs for children, teenagers and adults. In 2008, the Friends of the North Bend Library bought a painting for the children’s section and this year’s funds allowed volunteers to buy plants for the library and pay for a gardener to visit once a month and care for them.
Library Cluster Manager Michele Drovdahl said the friends provide needed programming for the library’s patrons.
“Friends is a real accurate word to describe them,” Drovdahl said. “They are our friends.”
The friends has funded more than 20 programs this year, including visiting musicians, creative writing workshops for teenagers, a Native American flute workshop for adults, children’s story time and snacks for the various groups that meet at the library.
Humphrey encouraged people to donate their books at the North Bend library’s collection cart near the checkout desk.
“We give 100 percent of our monies back to the library,” Humphrey said. “Our donations are down since they (Reading Tree) started putting the bins up, between one-third and a half.”
Today’s economic climate has been tough on most non-profits, Barger said, noting that 2008 was the first time since 1987 that charitable donations have declined nationwide.
“We have very positive relationships with many libraries,” he continued. “In some areas, we help with their book sales by donating books. Other times, we collect books that they would normally throw away.”
Barger said he looked forward to working with the Friends of the North Bend Library, and said he doubted Reading Tree was impacting their rate of book donations.
“Library groups tend to have very loyal donors,” Barger said.