How to Stock Your Home Library Cheaply

Over the last four years, I have been working to create a well stocked home library of children's books covering all major subject areas. We currently have around 500-600 books. There are a number of benefits to having a well stocked home library which I have seen first hand. The first major benefit is that when your child shows an interest in a particular subject, you can go to your own home library, pull out a book on that subject, and start learning on the spot. Many times your child's window of interest is short and they quickly move on to another interest before you have time to get to the library. Let me give an example. This summer while Jacob was playing in the yard he found a toad. His father helped him put it in a bucket and Jacob spent some time watching the toad before letting it go in a safe spot. Right after finding the toad, he was very interested in toads so when he came inside he asked if we could learn more about toads. We were fortunate to have a book on hand called Fun With Nature that has good information about toads in it. Jacob and I sat down to read a little about toads and identify the toad which he had found. By the time we got to the library at the end of the week, the toad had been forgotten about. The toad discovery is but one of many similar learning experiences we have had. We have been able to catch our son when he has peak interest in a subject, and provide him with more information thanks to our home library.

The second major benefit to having a well stocked home library is that it exposes children to such a broad array of subjects when they have the time and inclination to learn. We have one large bookcase in our kitchen (shown above) that holds most of our nonfiction books organized loosely by subject. My children often go over to this book shelf and pull out books to look through that appear interesting to them. I never know what is going to be interesting to them at a particular time. A book that was not interesting three months ago might become a favorite this month. A well stocked home library provides children opportunities to learn when they are most receptive. Anyone who has taught children can tell you that children who are interested in a subject, learn and remember the most about it.

Now I bet some of you are saying, that is all well and good, but I can not afford a well stocked library. I want to share ways I have found to stock a home library for a fraction of what it might cost if you bought all the books new. I will also share where to find these low priced books. I think the first key to stocking a home library is becoming familiar with the best books on the market. The Kids Love Learning Store is a great place to start. I have listed the best books I have found covering most subject areas. Private book stores are another good place to discover some of the best books out there and your local library is a great place to preview books before you buy them.

There are a number of strategies I have used to stock my library and these strategies can work for anyone. The best source of really cheap children's books is used books sales held by libraries or other organizations trying to raise money. I have brought home huge bags of books and paid typically $20 for a very large bag of books or $2. The discrepancy in price is based on the day you shop. The first day of our local book sales, I will show up and find books that are usually priced at 50 cents to $2 a book. Most books sales will also have a day or time when you can fill a bag for $2 at the end of the sale. I go to these book sales on the first day and the last and typically get hundreds of dollars worth of books for around $25. The key to finding the best books at these sales is to show up early on the first day of the book sale before the sale opens. Get in line with all the book dealers and book addicts. Bring a very large canvas bag (or two) with strong handles. When the doors open, get ready to work fast. Head to the children's section and look for the tables that have larger hard cover books. You will want to quickly go through these books first because large hard cover nonfiction books will form the core of your nonfiction library and they are the most expensive to buy brand new. Eyewitness and DK books are wonderful and I have gotten all of mine second hand, mostly at used book sales. Any book that looks good should be quickly tossed in your canvas tote bag and you should move down the tables looking only at the large books first. Once you have looked at all the large hardcover books you can go back and look at the paperback books. Skip the fiction chapter books for now because they are easy to find used and can be bought at the end of the sale for $2 a bag. Don't forget to check for children's audio books on cassette if you have a cassette player. These are not a popular seller and you can find some great titles for a small fraction of what an audio CD would cost. I would look at books first though because not many people look for children's audio books on cassette. When you have a bag or two full of books you can find a quiet corner and go through your books looking for damaged ones and deciding if you really want to keep each book. Do not spend time looking closely at books at the beginning of the sale or all the best books will have been snatched up.

You should employ a similar strategy on the last day of the book sale if the sale has a $2-3 a bag final day. There are usually many classic fiction chapter books still available on the last day of the sale, often with multiple copies. You will probably find some good books you missed on the first day as well as books that you didn't want to pay $2 for but you are happy to pay 10 cents for. Again, come before the doors open and don't stop to really look at your books until your bag is full or you have run out of books to look at.

Some other good places to find great used books are Goodwill and Salvation Army. I have paid anywhere from 10 cents to $3 a book and found books that were on my wish list. The key to finding good books is checking often. I usually go once or twice a month. Yard sales are another good source and expect to pay anywhere from 10 cents to a couple of dollars per book, depending on the books original price. Unless the book is already offered at a rock bottom price like 10-25 cents, I usually ask the yard sale holder if they will take a lower offer. My offer is typically about half off their original price and this works especially well if you are buying several books or items at a time. Nine times out of ten, your lower offer will be accepted.

When I get home with my new used books, I always wash the front and back cover with a slightly dampened rag and lay them on the carpet to dry. Unscented baby wipes are also good for cleaning the covers of a book. This gets any sticky finger prints or dust off your book and makes them look more like new.

If I can not find a used book locally or I need a book right away, then I will look for a book on ebay, www.addall.com, half.com, or Amazon.com. I buy almost all of my new books through Amazon.com because I have found their books to be cheaper than other new book sellers. When you buy used books on-line, you need to add up the shipping costs because often you can buy a book new for a dollar or two more on Amazon.com. I would rather pay a dollar or two more for a new book on Amazon.com than a used book that may or may not be in great shape. If an on-line book seller is offering a used book for half off or more with shipping than that is a good risk. Just make sure you check the seller rating and only buy from sellers with top ratings.

The photo above is the wonderful bookshelf my father built me to hold most of our nonfiction and homeschooling books. The picture was taken around a year ago and now the bookshelf is almost completely full of just books. This bookshelf is located in our big kitchen which is the only good place I have for such a large book shelf. My children also have book shelves in their bedrooms filled with picture books and I have chapter books in our living room. Any dry room in your house can be a good place to store your books!

If any of you reading this post have other cheap sources for good books, I would love to hear about them!


Rosie said...

Great suggestions! I have one more. Try networking with neighbors who have children a bit older than yours. One of our neighbors wanted to know if I would like the books her children had outgrown. They are a few years older than mine. I gladly accept all the books and videos she sends my way. I pick out the ones I want to keep and pass the others along.

Mama Squirrel said...

I don't always have wipes around, but I have cleaned slightly yucky paperbacks with a damp dishcloth and a very little bit of dish detergent. (Just damp enough to work, not to wet the book too much.)

Sebastian said...

Another suggestion is to see if homeschool groups in your area have a used book sale. The prices tend to be higher than those at a library sale, but the selections can be more focused. My favorite sale is one where you pay a couple dollars and get a table in a gym. Each person staffs their own table. Last year, I saved about $200 between books I sold and books I got for far less than the price I would have paid for new (this was on books for Sonlight).
Many library sales allow members of the Friends of the Library group shopping on the night before the sale. This can be a good investment if you think that you will be buying a lot of books. (In other words, the membership in the friends group gives you access to a better selection than you might have waiting until the first day of the sale.) You might also check if they keep restocking over the course of the sale. Our library keeps putting books out as room on the shelves appears. This matters less for children's books but made a lot of difference in the adult history section. You might also want to check out the art, science and nature sections. You can find great books that you can use that just weren't considered children's books. Coffee table art books or photo books of various habitats for a few dollars.

SB said...

I use Freecycle and paperbackswap.com to build my Library. It saves me a TON of money!

kat said...

I have been collecting children's books for my brood for 10 years now and have amassed 8 bookcases full of quality books. I love shopping at thrift stores and used book shops. The kids have learned to take a book with them in the car and I am amazed some days with what they have chosen to read.

My biggest help has been to keep a list handy of what we already own in popular series such as Landmark Books to help keep duplicates to a minimum.

I also suggest certain newer books to relatives who want to get the kids a gift, but don't want to get them another toy.

Even with all these books my kids still love to go to the library once a week for "fresh stuff"!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great suggestions. I love books! Now I'm trying to organize them. They homeschool books I have are arranged by "subject".. but the kids books are harder. Its easy to put all the critter books together, but from there....