Having recently experienced the usual deluge of end-of- the-year donations, this topic has been on my mind. Donors planning to increase their charitable contributions for income tax purposes often donate unwanted books to a library in December. Of course, there are also the generous donors who sincerely want to help the library build a collection.
I’ve learned that gifts can be both a blessing and a curse. I try to avoid accepting items that duplicate material that my library already owns and rarely accept journal issues unless it’s a substantial run of a very desirable and unusual title. Learning to tactfully refuse an unwanted donation without alienating the donor is a necessary skill so my strategies are to suggest other possible institutions which might be grateful for the donation—social service agencies, smaller area libraries, library book sales—as well as to explain our procedures and costs.
A variation on the gift of books is to be offered a donation to purchase material for the library’s collection. Sometimes this money has been intended as a memorial and the donor may ask that the purchased material correspond to a particular interest of the person being honored. It can be very challenging to find a desirable title that matches the prescribed subject and the amount of the donation.
It is important that your library have a written policy regarding gifts. The policy should identify the type of material that the library will accept and the appropriate contact person. It also needs to explain how issues such as appraisals and acknowledgments, such as book plates and donation inventories, will be handled. It might suggest that cash donations to support the processing or personnel costs would be welcome. Perhaps most important, the policy should clearly state that retention decisions for gifts are at the library’s discretion. If at all possible, post this policy on your website so potential donors can find it.
When you are offered a gift of something that is truly desirable for the collection, rejoice and celebrate. It may not happen often. But regardless of how mundane the gift, if you accept it, you need to write a letter of appreciation to the donor and, depending on your organization, copy the letter to your Development Officer and administrators. Make the thank you letters as personal as possible and emphasize not only the library’s appreciation but also how the gift benefits the users of the collection.
And, when it comes time for you to dispose of your own book collection, be sympathetic to the librarian who may not be as enthusiastic as you expected.
Susan V. Craig, University of Kansas, January 2015