Organizing a School-Wide Book Swap

My kids’ public prek-6 elementary school has done a book swap for several years. I am not a main organizer, but I volunteered on one of the book swap days this year, and I was delighted to see the impact and fun of this event unfold. I posted a bit about it on social media and someone asked me for details about it because she hopes to launch a book swap at her children’s school. She wrote:
“I know not everyone can contribute books for the swap–how do you ensure there are enough books for each child? We have been doing Scholastic Book fairs & they serve their fundraising purpose, but I am crushed when I see children cry when they fall in love with a book but have no $$ to purchase. Love the idea of a swap so used books keep circulating & everybody gets something!”
After writing back to her, I thought I’d share details here, too:
At least a month ahead of time the parent volunteers put out a call through the school’s newsletter, website, and social media for book donations. I know that this year there were more books donated than any other year–each child in the school could take 3 books! But, it took a few years to build up to this point. In years past I think kids could only take one book each.
Donations were accepted until a Monday, two days before the swap began. On Tuesday parent volunteers spent hours organizing the books on tables in the following categories:
  • Grades 5 & 6 fiction (I ended up thinking there was way too much YA here, so that might be something to discourage)
  • Fiction for younger kids (chapter books, transitional novels)
  • Beginning reader books
  • Nonfiction for all ages
  • Picture books and board books (this was by far the most popular type of donation)
  • A few boxes of books in Spanish for all ages
Then on Wednesday and Thursday teachers brought their classes one at a time to the book swap so that kids could choose. I think each class got about 20 minutes or so. We kept the 5&6 grade tables covered when those classes weren’t present because there were fewer choices. We also said that kids could only choose one book from a favorite series (Magic Treehouse, for example) to make sure that lots of kids would have access to those books.
My job as volunteer (along with at least one other parent) was to welcome each class, tell them the layout of the room and the basic rules, and to then field kids’ requests and help them find things that met their interests. I also got there early and went through all the tables, moving some things around and removing titles that I thought weren’t a good fit (an entire set of Octavia Butler’s adult fiction went to the teacher’s lounge, and I moved a lot of YA to the 5&6 grade table). When the classes came, there were many, many kids who asked for graphic novels and comics, and for books about sports, and we simply didn’t have many such titles. But the vast majority of kids ended up with three books that they were really happy about.
Then after each class had a chance to go through books, the teachers all got a chance to choose books they wanted after school on Thursday (I think). Families were also invited to take books at an appointed time (I think on Friday). I’d heard talk about donating leftovers to a local nonprofit Reader to Reader, but I am not sure if that happened or if the organizers did something else.
In terms of how to make sure that you get enough books, we mainly relied on parent donations, and I know that a few parents with ties to publishing companies solicited donations. I didn’t get involved in this effort beyond donating a box of books from my house. To get a program like this off the ground at your school, perhaps you could solicit donations from authors on social media, or reach out to a group like First Book or Reader to Reader.
I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s organized similar events at their schools.


Organizing a School-Wide Book Swap — 2 Comments

  1. An ad in a local paper or on local parent facebook groups would be good. Also, contacting local friends of library groups and asking if they have any kids books leftover after sales. I haven’t heard of this kind of book swap but I love it! There’s a huge adult book swap in Chicago every year and that was fun to go to.

    • Those are really good ideas! I heard from another person who said that her private school used to do a book swap, but because the student population where she is a librarian is pretty wealthy, they now do a book drive to donate books elsewhere.

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