Setting up a book swap

I was wondering if you have ever heard of doing a "book swap?" We want to plan one for our church where we would invite mothers with school aged children to come and bring books that their children have outgrown, etc. to swap for more appropriate books. I am trying to figure out the logistics, guidelines, etc. If you have ever seen anything like this, could you please give me some details?



Dear Tricia,

What a wonderful idea! Books are meant to be read, enjoyed, and shared, and holding a book swap is a great way to get more mileage out of them. I will be glad to share some of my own ideas on how to organize it, so feel free to put them into action or modify them to suit your needs.

My first suggestion is to consider creating a lending library at your church. This may be easier to organize and maintain. Select an area within your facility that will be accessible and functional for the lending library, perhaps near the daycare center or classrooms. If there are no bookshelves available in your facility for your lending library, investigate yard sales and thrift shops for bargains. You could also use stacked milk crates to create shelving. Once you have an area set up for the books, publicize your lending library to the congregation.

As books come in, organize them into age groups, such as board books (infants and toddlers), preschool books (alphabet and very simple picture books), early elementary books (picture books with text), easy chapter books (slim volumes with some pictures), more advanced chapter books (Nancy Drew, Roald Dahl books, etc...), and any other categories that you see fit to create. Label the shelves and books accordingly, perhaps by color coding. You can purchase colored tape to place on the bindings to indicate the reading level, which will also make it easier to shelve them. Devise a check-out system, such as a clipboard with a list on it, and have very clear guidelines (maximum 3 books per child per week, for example) for the number of books and length of time that the books can be borrowed. A lending system is just one alternative, though.

Conducting a book swap will require some organization, just as a lending library will. Form a committee of parents to plan, publicize, and carry-out your event. Hold a brainstorming session so that you can share ideas and lay out the master plan for the swap. Here are some things to consider:

  • Be sure to choose a day and time when you will have the maximum number of participants to ensure a greater variety of books. Publicizing the swap will also increase the number of attendees.
  • Create fair guidelines for people attending the event. People should be able to leave with the approximately the same number of books that they arrived with, just different titles. It might not be fair to a family who contributed 30 books to leave with only 5 while someone who contributed 5 leaves with 30. Perhaps you could create a master sign-in / sign-out sheet where participants record the number of books they bring as well as the number of books that they take with them when they leave.
  • Decide in advance the extent of ownership. Will there be future swaps so that the books can exchange hands again, or should people expect that the books they contribute will not be returned to them? You could do it either way, but you need to establish that from the beginning.

Your idea is fantastic, Tricia. Not only is it economically feasible, but it is also a fun way for families to spend time together. The key to your event, as indicated in your letter, is to figure out the logistics ahead of time so that your book swap is successful. Don't try to tackle this project alone. With a small group of parents who are as dedicated to making it a reality as you are, your book swap will run smoothly.

Best wishes,

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