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Recycled Reads seeks to branch out from books to tools

Thursday, March 3, 2022 by Willow Higgins

The Austin Public Library system is the go-to for most Austinites who want to rent books free of charge. But APL also has a lesser-known service for those who want to buy books at affordable prices: Recycled Reads, the public library’s used bookstore, sells, recycles and repurposes donations and weeded-out materials from the library for a couple of bucks or less.

Recycled Reads helps advance the city’s zero-waste goal of diverting 90 percent of waste from landfills by 2040 by preventing old library materials from going into the trash. When a local library or private citizen cleans house, the store accepts their donations of books, CDs, movies, art and games. While the collection is diverse, most of the material is for children, making the resource particularly helpful for low-income families who want to buy books for their kids and for teachers buying classroom supplies on a budget. The staff also makes arts and crafts, turning old books into vases or flowers.

Hannah Terrell, the division manager of Branch Services, presented to the Library Commission last week on how Recycled Reads managed in the past year.

In theory, proceeds from Recycled Reads benefit APL, Terrell explained. But this year, the money the bookstore made went mostly to rent its storefront on Burnet Road – a lease it just renewed for another 48 months. In October 2021, the bookstore did more than $14,000 in sales; in November of last year it did less than $10,000; and in December, the store sold more than $11,000. The money Recycled Reads makes is not only from storefront sales, but also from selling its donations. Goodwill of Central Texas is its largest partner. In October 2021, the bookstore brought more than 16 tons of supplies to Goodwill. 

Recycled Reads has also begun to pilot a new service – a tool library. Terrell explained that they used a grant to build out a small tool library in line with the sustainable and accessible mindset, “Why buy when I can borrow?”

“As opposed to just books, we’ve extended out to things that people can borrow for things that might be needed just for one-time use,” Terrell said, like drills or other building supplies. “We haven’t marketed it heavily, so there hasn’t been much traction yet.”

Like many places, Recycled Reads has struggled with staffing shortages this year. Before Covid-19, the program had about 20 volunteers. These days, the store has four to five volunteers. The store is making do with three full-time staff members and one part-time staff member; they also have recently hired a couple of people for temporary work to provide some short-term relief.

In the coming year, the Recycled Reads team wants more Austinites to know about this helpful resource. Those who know about the bookstore frequent it regularly, but many locals have never heard of it. Terrell wants to shift the strategy to help the store gain more foot traffic.

“My goal is to look at cross-marketing of Recycled Reads … and cross-market what they’re doing more intentionally at the Central Library, the Austin History Center and (other library branches),” she said. 

The bookstore also hopes to ramp up its branding efforts. “People don’t know that Recycled Reads is part of the APL. We want to make the APL connection more visible inside and outside the library.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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