I admit that I shamelessly stole this idea from my sons’ elementary school. Each year, all of the students are invited to bring in books that they are done reading to swap with their classmates. All of the kids love it and the parents love that it encourages children to read while teaching them a valuable lesson about thrift and the value of re-using things.
There is no reason that you can’t do the same with your circle of friends, a church or other social group or your co-workers. Combine it with some light refreshments (maybe even a cookie swap or potluck?) and you’ve got a fun way to socialize with built in conversation starters. Better still, everyone gets to go home with a new-to-them book to enjoy.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind When Planning a Book Swap
In general, smaller groups of close friends will need fewer rules than a larger gathering of acquaintances. Smaller gatherings will yield fewer choices of books, but will be easier to organize. Larger gatherings can require more planning, but if you provide clear guidelines ahead of time, you’ll greatly reduce the potential for misunderstandings.
You can collect the books from the guests as they arrive for smaller gatherings and either work on the honor system or pass out tickets that can be exchanged for books. For larger book swaps, designate a day or two in advance of the event for people to drop off their books and get their tickets.
Choose a location that’s big enough for everyone to move around comfortably and that has plenty of tables to display the books. Laying books flat on the table so that their covers show works better than displaying them by the spine. Although lining them up upright takes up less space, laying them flat makes it easier for people to scan all of the books quickly while walking around the tables.
Some swaps consider hardcover books to be worth more tickets than paperbacks. You can choose to make hard covers worth two tickets and paperbacks worth one but be wary about trying to assign value beyond that. Your guests should understand that this is meant to be an informal exchange and that books with a higher resale value (first edition, signed copies, etc) should be kept at home.
Plan on having snacks and drinks for the first thirty minutes or so after the designated start time. This will give everyone a chance to chat about their books as well as give stragglers a chance to arrive.
Offer guests the chance to “donate” extra books. For example, if a guest brings 5 but only wants to take 2 home because they are de-cluttering, they will take 2 tickets. This will allow for extra books in circulation, upping the chance that everyone can find something that they will enjoy. At the end of the evening, any books that remain can be dropped off at a charity thrift shop or Friends of the Library bookstore.
Other Book Swap Suggestions
You can hold a general book swap or request books that fit a certain theme or genre. Limiting books to a genre can limit the number of participants, but it can also help ensure that everyone will find a book that they are interested in.
Try holding a book swap as part of the entertainment at a holiday or birthday party. This is a good option for older adults that are trying to reduce clutter. A book swap in lieu of a secret santa party might go over well at your workplace if you have a decent number of readers.
Many online forums and membership sites have successfully pulled off book swaps. The most common method is to have one organizer pair up random members to swap books. Each person sends one gently used book to their partner and receives one in exchange. Some groups also allow for sending new copies of favorites, to allow swap members to take advantage of free shipping from retailers like Amazon. In the U.S. participants can use media mail to keep the costs affordable.
Paperbackswap and Bookmooch are two online sites that facilitate book exchanges. Each site has its own rules and terms of service, but basically you list books that you are willing to share. After another member has requested one of your books and you’ve mailed it out, you receive credits that allow you to request books from other members.
If you’re not up to doing a formal exchange, you might be willing to convince your employer, apartment building manager or Church leaders to allow you to set up a “free books” table or bin in their facility. This is a great way to keep books in circulation. After all, while shelves full of books is nice, the best thing you can do with a book is read it!
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