Friday, November 05, 2010

In which I learn a painful lesson about donations

Remember how I ranted about donations yesterday. Here's a great story to prove my point. Even better, I'm the rube in this story.

I was talking with one of my library staff and she mentioned that someone had wanted to donate some auto manuals to the library. The staff member (new) had checked with staff at another branch who thought it was a gold mine. That is true, to an extent. Our auto-repair reference databases get the most searches and this material is some of the most frequently requested. However, it makes the most sense to have this material on a database then occupying four rows of the library. The staff member mentioned the patron was bringing 10 or 15. Well, I can deal with 10 or 15 books even if we can't use them. This is the point at which alarm bells are ringing for wiser and more experienced librarians, but I continued blithely on my way.

One lovely Saturday morning in September just after we opened, we receive a call. The patron is on her way and wants to make sure we're ready to receive her donation and check if we have a flatbed and/or dolly. My heart starts to sink as I ask her how many books she is bringing. She has 15 boxes of books to bring us. My heart starts racing and I begin to feel a little faint. (I'm not mixing metaphors, my heart really was sinking and racing at the same time, hence the faintness I was feeling.) 15 boxes of auto manuals? No one has that many auto manuals. People usually have one or two auto manuals for the vehicles they own. People with 15 boxes of auto manuals have typically owned an auto repair shop. I don't know if you've ever been to an auto repair shop, but they're not the cleanest places in the world, and not to disparage mechanics (I've known several very nice mechanics, friends of mine), but they're not the best at keeping books in good condition. My sinking feeling was getting worse by the second.

When she arrived, the entire back of her pick up was full of boxes of auto repair manuals. And, naturally, she wanted us to unload the boxes so she could have them back. There were several moments here where I should have said, "I'm sorry that's not possible" or "I'm sorry we don't have the staff time available to deal with that donation". I didn't. I don't know why, but I didn't. Even as I accepted this pick up load of (and yes I counted) 17 boxes of auto repair manuals, I knew they would be worthless. This incident helped strengthen my backbone a lot.

As we were unloading the boxes, the woman said she had to "run and get something" but would be right back. Foolishly I assumed she was running to a store to pick something up. Nope. She went home and got another pickup load full of boxes of dirty, outdated, useless, heavy auto manuals. Another 9 boxes. That brings us up to 26 boxes of auto manuals. Our hands were turning black from unpacking them. The courier tubs we were putting them in were getting filthy. All in all it was a HUGE mess. But the patron thought she was doing us a service, helping out the new library in the poor neighborhood. I would never put these filthy books on my shelves. They were in disgusting condition and so old as to be useless to the vast majority of my patrons. Almost immediately they went into the dumpster and recycling bins. (Well I tried to send them to our main library but all that accomplished was another three staff members handling them, more courier bins getting dirty, and people getting angry at me.)

Lessons learned? When someone offers you a donation, clarify if they are counting in boxes or books. And make sure all of your staff understands what can be accepted as donations. (This assumes that you've already established a policy on what you're accepting as a donation.)

What we will (now) accept as donations:
  • hardcover books published within the last 5 years in good condition
  • hardovers of classic books
  • no encyclopedias
  • any hardcover or paperback graphic novel or manga
  • limit one box per patron per donation

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