how to hold a bang-up book swap in less than 74 easy steps


So you want to have a book swap day in your library? I’ve had quite a few, and for the past 5 years we’ve had over 3,000 books at each one. Yes. That is a real number.  Not all of the books were brought to the swap by students given the demographics of our school, but we get a flood of books in for everyone any way we can. In order to stage a HUGE and exciting Swap, you will have to really plan ahead. Be prepared to feel as if you are running a used bookstore (you are) a daycare (sometimes) and a cleaning service all at once (baby wipes are helpful here).   I prefer to hold a swap at the end of the year, so that students have some free summer reading but anytime you can swing it is a good time to swap. Here’s what I do to prepare our thrifty book event.

  • Tell people what a swap is. This seems elementary, but if you work in elementary or even with most adults it is not.  Not everyone has your thrifty know how.
  • Decide if you want books to be an even “one for one” swap, or if you want to give specific credits for a type of book. Because I work in an elementary school, I get both picture and chapter books. I make the chapter “worth” more in swap credit. Also I like to stress myself out.
  • Advertise, advertise, advertise. Keep telling kids about the swap. Explain the idea of a swap. You BRING more, you GET more. I like to use the Sesame Street clip below to illustrate the idea of swapping. Everyone likes it. Or I really like it and they humor me.  

  • Post on your website and social media so that parents have a way to check the dates and rules about the swap, it will save you some lengthy phone conversations when you should be counting books not talking.
  • Set the shop up in a way that advertises for you- we use every window we can and show the books that will be available on the swap day. 
  • Start taking in books early. Inform swappers they must bring them a few weeks BEFORE the swap. This will allow you to do several things- check for cleanliness, appropriateness, and areas you need more books. What if you get 200 Clifford books and one Harry Potter with a fifth grade population who wants to shop? Also- the advertising displaying those books generates is handy. Receiving the bulk of your swap books the day of the swap will be overwhelming and there will be no way for you to check those books.
  • Have tape and wipes to salvage books that aren’t perfect but could almost be.
  • Request donations from people who have more money than you. As you may be an educator this is quite a long list. I request donations from book stores, community Facebook pages, and friends and family. Just about everyone has a few books they no longer need. This will bring up your selection numbers.  
  • Apply for a grant to purchase books for your swap. I’ve received three separate grants over six years to help my swap grow. I was able to add specific age ranges I was missing and even new books to drive up excitement!18342379_1368714706541584_6696412219178901080_n
  • Get some bags! I ask kids to bring their books in to me in bags, I keep what I can and get more for the swap day. 
  • As the books come in, make a spreadsheet of who brought them and assign credit to be given at the swap. As my numbers grew to hundreds of swappers this became more challenging to do well, but I still stand by it as a way to fairly assign credit to kids to shop. Someone who brings 20 great books should be able to shop for that many.
  • If you are in a library and are weeding books, add them to the swap! Kids love the Guinness World Record books shown above, but they were too worn to really circulate well.
  • Ask friends of the library to visit garage sales for you before the swap, those books are super cheap to snap up for swap donations.
  • Check the books for appropriateness. The 5th graders WANT Twilight…. but perhaps it is not an idea parents will embrace. I send these to the middle and high school librarians so that no book is left behind.
  • It is not nice for students to take books from mom or baby brother without asking (yep, did it). If you have any warning bells heed them and call to check. 
  • Use donations to give away book swap credit! I ask teachers for help identifying students who could not afford to bring any books but would love to take home a mini-library. It’s an awesome day for that student and those who want to help them!
  • Look for books that could make a set and put them together. Fancy.
  • Line up volunteers to help you set up and run the swap. Little kids need help swapping so parent volunteers are very helpful, in absence of parents bossy older students can help.
  • I like to provide swappers with tickets the day of the swap with their ticket totals. See pics below.
  • Get lots of bookmarks for the swap day, it feels like swag to go with the shopping.
  • Play some music! Make it a party.
  • Bask in the glow of your thrifty book shop. You are so good at recycling!