Can You Buy Books From the Library? Library Book Sales Explained

Can you buy books from the library? While you cannot simply buy a book off of a library shelf, but you may want to look into the next library book sale — if your branch and/or community offers one. If you want a copy of a book you found at the library, consider buying it at a bookstore or ordering it online. If it’s out of print, a librarian may be able to help you track it down. But make sure to return the library copy, as fees are used to deter readers from keeping books and reporting them as lost or damaged.

Can You Buy Books From the Library?

The short answer is no. You can’t shop your local library’s shelves or expect that the librarian will offer you the option to buy one of the books. Sure, you could “accidentally” lose the book and pay for a replacement, but most libraries charge extra fees to deter such behavior.

Not to mention, most libraries determine book-replacement costs on a case-by-case basis. For example, a public library in Troy, Ala., has the following replacement policy:

“Determining a fair and adequate replacement cost for library materials is at the discretion of a circulation supervisor and will be based on the average cost as determined by Baker & Taylor, current catalogs, other selection aids, or the price noted on the shelf list card. There will be consultation with a librarian on staff as needed regarding replacement costs.”

Translation: You may easily wind up paying more to replace a library book than it would cost to buy a copy at your local Barnes & Noble — and that’s not even including late fees and other applicable charges. (To learn about Barnes & Noble’s student discount policy, see our article.)

In most cases, you’ll be able to find the book you’re looking online — even if it’s out of print. If you’re having trouble locating a copy, you can ask a librarian or local new and used bookstore for help.  These literary professionals are typically happy to help and may know about industry resellers who may have a copy of the book you’re looking for. It’s also possible that your local librarian may be willing to take down your information and contact you if the book is ever removed from circulation (more on this below).

Do Libraries Ever Sell Books?

When libraries remove books from their collections, for whatever reason, some of the books may be sold — with the profits funneling back into the library’s operating budget. Depending on your local library’s practices, it may sell books in bulk to online resellers or save them for an upcoming book sale — often held at the main branch location or a community center. Book sale information is sometimes promoted in a newsletter or posted on a community board. Contact your local library to ask about any upcoming opportunities to buy used library books.

In Summary

Though you cannot purchase books from a library’s current collection, many branches eventually sell books removed from circulation online or through a book sale. If you claim a library book as lost, keep in mind, the replacement fee and any late or administrative fees could very well end up costing you more than the price of purchasing a copy of the book at your local bookstore.

For more on reading and books, see our articles: Best Paid or Free Online Reading Programs and Where to Do with Old Textbooks.