The Lifecycle of Books: Book-Swapping, and Book Recycling

I’ve found myself thinking about the entire the life cycle of books — not just the writing, publishing, and reading parts — but, what happens after the reading and consumption of that book? What’s the afterlife of books after they’ve been read?

Book recycling is a great concept. And I was pleasantly surprised to see how many different websites there are with creative variations on that theme. BookCrossing (check out their Wikipedia page for a good rundown) has one of the more fun ideas — of “releasing books into the wild.” In a nutshell:

“Anyone who wishes to officially participate in “releasing” books, whether leaving it in a public place or passing it on to a friend, must register on the website,[13] although there is the option to remain anonymous when “catching” or recording the find of a book. users can ‘go hunting’, where a member will go to the website to view a list of books that have recently been “released”, then go to the location it was left to “catch” it. Books may also be left at Official BookCrossing Zones” (OBCZs), which are located in certain coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and other public places. The purpose of these locations is to get current members in the area to leave books to share with the public.”

If one were to think of it as a large, group social psychology experiment, what an intriguing concept BookCrossing is. Books left by strangers for other strangers to find. And with a community pushing 900,000, it seems to have struck a chord with a great many book people. There’s even a neat little documentary project with the BBC, 84 Book Crossing Road, tracing the paths of copies of a single book, and whose hands those books ended up in, and how.

BookMooch has a different approach, based upon on a sort of peer-to-peer model with a points system (and, check out their cool statistics page as well). All in all, a pretty attractive alternative to making use of books you no longer want — you can learn more about BookMooch here.

PaperbackSwap (5 million+ books) fashions itself as a book club, with a similar modus operandi: How to Swap Books

ecolife (“How to Recycle Books”) has some additional ideas beyond book swapping, along with statistics about the environmental impact of books. All the more reason to find ways to recycle or reuse them, rather than see all that paper and words abandoned to the landfills.

And on that topic, for the green-conscious out there, be sure to check Eco-Libris, and their Environmental Facts About the Book Publishing Industry. A number of fascinating statistics about the book publishing industry, the environmental impact, and perhaps most important of all, the efforts to push towards greater recycled paper — a major goal in making book production more eco-friendly.

Donating books is generally a popular idea. Most people are ready and willing, it’s always a question of where can you donate books?

And of course, if you still want to possess that physical book, but don’t care about the words inside, there are creative ways to do so: “10 Creative Ways to Recycle Old Books” (“Turn a book into a clock,”*and “Turn a book into an iPod case”** are kind of neat ideas).

And, some other ideas you might find helpful: “10 Helpful Ways to Recycle Used Books

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* In fact, I even saw one of these selling in Santa Monica, for $40.

** See also: Lifehacker, “Carry your iPod in a book


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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