Every day at the warehouse we walk in with one goal: Find a new hand for every book and a new story for every home.
The Friends of HPL has been around for 63 years and was run by volunteers for 60 of those years. It is a true community of library and literacy lovers and pioneers, working together to get books back out into the community.
We get these books back out into the community by reselling, donating, upcycling, and recycling over 300,000 books every year, 80% of which comes from HPL branches and the rest are donated by the community.
We resell or sell these books in a couple of different ways: community book sales, online sales through Amazon, through Better World Books, or bulk sales. We are able to figure out the perfect destination for our books through the software Neatoscan—which not only helps us figure out the journey that these discards will take, but also provides a much-enjoyed volunteer task to book lovers ages 7-87.
Our community sales are a whirlwind of excitement and good ol’ unofficial competition on who brings the most creative book retrieval device on wheels—carts, wagons, dollies, milk crates, and suitcases. We take over 100,000 books between all four sales and sell them at dollar prices.
One of our Friends members bought over $300 worth of books and cleaned us out of our children’s Arabic titles at our last sale. She sent them over to Doha Mums Library in Doha, Qatar, a nonprofit library serving families of all nationalities and religions—she said her friends in Qatar said the books were incredibly well received, popular titles and of incredible quality.
One of our consistent financial drivers is our online Amazon storefront. Through Neatoscan, we are able to identify Amazon-worthy books. This software measures a variety of factors including (1) current sales rank and (2) cost of storage space at Amazon’s fulfillment center based on the book’s size and weight, ultimately measuring its profitability. One of our volunteer tasks is listing, where volunteers function as book inspectors, relaying information to potential buyers on everything from binding, to the creases on pages and each book’s individual quirks.
Ratings and reviews are everything on the Internet these days, and our Amazon storefront is no exception. Having a higher rating on Amazon ensures that we will be on the first page of used book choices. We currently have a rating of 4.8 stars over the past 12 months. More than anything, we love knowing that these books are in new homes all across the country, from homes to schools and, best of all, showing off our favorite public library system on each book —the Houston Public Library.
Great seller I will look for them again. Used [and in] very good condition. Colorful and larger print very much appreciated. – Amazon customer
The fact that our friends at the branches mark boxes of books as either “Discards”/damaged (on the labels outside of the boxes sent to the warehouse) or “Friends” helps us get the best books sold and into new hands.
Better World Books
Better World Books is a company constructed of literacy and library advocates. We send our surplus and lower sales ranked books to BWB for a 25% commission of everything they are able to sell. We send 12 giant Gaylord bins at a time – that’s about 10,000 books. Whatever doesn’t get sold through BWB gets donated across the world. They even donate straight back into the Houston community, such as to our friends over at Books Between Kids. We were happy to know they’ve even supported HPL directly through grants! This is a true testament to the synergy and passion that is motivated by the written word.
We get donation requests all year long for worthy causes here in Houston, and since we believe in giving books back to the community we serve as many of them as we can. We work to serve an array of communities to further our reach and impact. In the last half year we have served: Harbor Hospice, Veterans Hospital, Families Empowered, Kids Meals, Put it in a Book Foundation, and Star of Hope, to name a few, and we’re about to give 300 books to Little Free Libraries. When it furthers the awareness of HPL and the importance of literacy, we’re there.
Upcycling & Recycling
And finally, there are our creative upcycling and recycling initiatives. The books that come to us, marked discards/damaged, which are what we like to call “The Best Loved Library Books,” will be given new life in a couple of ways. The first is traditional recycling, using what was once something else and creating something new. We work with Waste Management to arrange pickups throughout the year to take the heart of these best loved books and create something new, with all that love and literacy in tow.
Then there are our creatives, our craftspeople and artists. These folks see a soiled or damaged book in the recycling book and think, “What can I make with this?” or “Who might be able to use this?” Whether it’s giving the spine of those Lego or Star Wars thick binding reference books to children in need working on their motor skills, or it’s using pages and binding to create something new, these people look at our recycling bins and see a treasure trove of possibilities.
Oh, and those mangled romance novels? They get new life by becoming craft projects at our volunteer appreciation parties.
The Friends of HPL is an organization made up of the community for the community. Whether it’s the tireless efforts of our friends at HPL whose incredible work keeps us ignited and motivated, or it’s our volunteers who love knowing they can contribute to keeping HPL an undeniable Houston institution, or the belief that the written work of authors who have changed the course of history, some who have made us cry, laugh, or look up words in the dictionary deserve to be in new hands—this work, while only possible through the collaborative effort of many, beats with a strong heart for a single love—libraries.
Contributed by Rose Hinojosa, Friends Program Manager