A pile of used textbooks next to a plant

What to Do with Old Textbooks

If you’ve found your way here, it’s probably with a small mountain of used textbooks in tow. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. According to the NACS, college faculty assign an average of 1.2 required materials per course with occasional optional materials on top of that. If you’re doing the math at home, that means most students use a minimum of 5-7 textbooks per semester and as many as 40-60 over a four-year program.

That’s a lot of textbooks, so it’s not uncommon to have a few extras laying around collecting dust. If it’s time to say goodbye, here are a few options of what to do with old textbooks:

  1. Sell Textbooks
  2. Donate Textbooks
  3. Trade Textbooks
  4. Recycle Textbooks

Sell Textbooks

The most obvious thing to do with old textbooks is sell them. Just run each ISBN number through our sell textbooks tool to see if they’ve retained any value. Keep in mind that a variety of factors will have an impact on how much your textbooks are worth. Make sure you know the best time to sell textbooks and take care of your books so they’re in great condition when you’re ready to sell.

Unfortunately, all textbooks have a shelf life when it comes to monetary value. The industry is constantly changing, and new editions with important updates come out all the time. But that doesn’t mean your books have no value left at all. Here’s what to do with old textbooks you can’t sell anymore.

Donate Textbooks

Even if they aren’t useful to you anymore, your old textbooks could provide a lot of value to someone else who’s eager to learn. In fact, there are several organizations that make it easy to donate old textbooks, and they serve a variety of different communities and groups. That’s what makes donating textbooks great – you can choose an organization that has meaning for you and know that your books are going to a great cause.

Wondering where to donate old textbooks? Here are a few of our favorite options:

  • Libraries: It’s unquestionable that libraries are pillars of the community. They provide access to knowledge, promote literacy, and provide a safe place to learn for everyone, regardless of background. Donating gently used textbooks to your local library will enable them to add to their collection or resell them to help fund various programs.
  • Goodwill: For over 115 years, Goodwill has been serving local communities by selling donated items and using those funds to provide career training and other related services such as supplemental education and childcare to those in need. Check out the Goodwill website to learn more about the process and find a location near you.
  • Salvation Army: We’ve all seen Santa collecting donations for the Salvation Amy around Christmas, but did you know you can also donate used goods to them as well? These donations go to Salvation Army Family Stores and funds raised help support the organization’s many excellent programs. Visit the Salvation Army website to find drop-off locations or schedule a free pickup.
  • Better World Books: This organization accepts book donations and leverages your generosity to send books to people in need, provide literacy grants to nonprofits and libraries, and protect the environment by preventing needless waste. Visit the Better World Books website to learn more about the shipping process or find a drop box in your area.
  • Books Through Bars: Want to help provide crucial education and training to prison inmates? Books Through Bars collects a variety of genres from entertainment to instructional and your textbooks might fit the bill. However, make sure to read through their guidelines and checklist first, as they don’t accept hardcover or certain other types of books.
  • Books For Soldiers: Books For Soldiers allows any deployed member of the US Military to request books and more to enjoy while overseas. From this end, users can sign up as a volunteer on their website, look through soldiers’ book requests, and send over a much-needed book.
  • Books For Africa: Another great organization, Books For Africa accepts almost any books you can spare and sends them to Africa to help improve education conditions to those in need. Textbooks published any time in the last 15 years are in demand, so check out their website if you’re able to help.

These are just a few places where you can donate old textbooks, but there are a lot more out there. Take your time and find the option that’s right for you.

Trade Textbooks

Another easy thing to do with old college textbooks is set up a book swap at a local coffee shop, store, or community center. This can be a fun way to pass along your textbooks to someone who might need them and maybe find a new favorite yourself. Just make sure to approach the owner or manager of the venue you select and discuss the idea with them before setting anything up.

You can also use social media platforms to find and meet with other students from your school or in your area. Consider setting up a book swap group where you can all share which books you’re looking for and which ones you’re ready to give away.

One more online option is to use a site like PaperSwap Books, which allows users to list books they want to share with the community and request any they’d like to read. Think of it like borrowing a book from a friend, except now you have thousands of friends and over a million books to choose from.

Recycle Textbooks

If all else fails and you can’t figure out what to do with your old textbooks, it might seem like the only option left is throwing them away. But before you open the trash can, consider recycling your textbooks instead. According to the most recent data from the Environmental Protection Agency, 25% of the 17.8 million tons of waste generated each year fall into the “Paper and Paperboard” category. This includes textbooks, and with a few simple steps we can play a part in reducing this total.

  • Book Recycling: If your book is paperback, it can be recycled directly by putting it in the proper bin. To recycle books with a hardback cover, you will likely need to remove the cover and spine first, as these contain other materials such as plastics, threads, and glue. Check out this guide for help with unbinding hardcover books.
  • Locate a Center: If you don’t have recycling service and are unsure where you can safely recycle textbooks, this tool will help you find government and commercial options in your area.
  • Get Crafty: Another option to keep your textbooks out of the landfill is to recycle them into something decorative or handy. The possibilities are endless, from a tablet case to a lamp. Start here for some inspiration.

Remember that every little bit helps. Whether you choose to recycle, donate, or sell textbooks online, you’ll be helping to reduce waste, support a community in need, or both! The choice is up to you.


  • National Association of College Stores. “Higher Education Retail Market Facts & Figures.” https://www.nacs.org/. 25 June 2020.
  • Environmental Protection Agency. “National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling.” https://www.epa.gov/. 25 June 2020.

About the author

Alison Blankenship
Senior Marketing Manager
I graduated Cum Laude from The Ohio State University (Go Bucks!) with degrees in Marketing and Communications. I’ve been working in the textbook industry for over 10 years, and my work has been featured by College Confidential, Mercy College of Health Sciences, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania Tribune, Montana Technological University, Oregon Live, and other organizations.

I’m an obsessive lover of dachshunds and a passionate reader of books. I’m an avid Pinner and poster, and I’m all over our Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram and Pinterest.