In part one of this article, I promised I would share some budget-friendly strategies for building your home library of living books. Several of these highlight ways we can put Reshelving Alexandria’s website membership to work for us. Before its launch, I was invited to be part of its beta testing group and it was a tremendous privilege to see behind the scenes, even just a glimpse, as Tanya, Ambre, and Sarah worked tirelessly to bring this vision to life. Because of this, I have had a bit longer than most to explore the website and the benefits it has to offer when it comes to thrifty library building, and I am excited to share my discoveries with you, as well as some strategies I have gleaned from personal experience and spending time with our wonderful Reshelving Alexandria Facebook community.

Free books! Need I say more?!

There are likely books in your own neighborhood waiting for a good home, it is just a matter of finding them! Posting an add on Craigslist, Nextdoor, and online yard sale groups can yield some surprising finds! Let your neighborhood know that your family is building a home library and would be very happy to find a new home for the books they are wondering what to do with. Many of the books forgotten in people’s attics and garages are just the sort of books that we spend our days (and nights!) searching for. Posting a closeup picture of your own shelves with your ad helps give others an idea of the type of books you are looking for, but be willing to cast a wide net and sort the catch after you pull it in. Be aware that books that have languished in basements, barns, back closets, and the like may need some love before they are ready to be brought into your home library. Reshelving Alexandria’s Tending Shelves Facebook group is ready to help with tips on cleaning books, book repair, and dust jacket preservation.

Let your relatives, friends, and coworkers know that you are searching for old books; you never know who is closing a relative’s estate or downsizing and looking for a family to take in their book collection! Check with your county’s literacy council to see whether they provide free books for children. Public and private school libraries are frequently closing to make room for updated ‘media centers’ or discarding ‘obsolete’ books. Phone calls to schools and school districts looking for discarded books, and the willingness to collect and sort them, has netted some families hundreds of books at once, of exactly the age and caliber we are hoping to find. Let other friends who have living book collections of their own know that you are working to build your library and ask them to keep you in mind when their homes are taken over by rapidly multiplying book bunnies.

Another free source of living literature? Your own shelves! This is one of the ways a Reshelving Alexandria membership can make a big difference, helping us put the library we already have to better use! The search features, tags, and the ability to filter results to those among our own books are invaluable in this regard. How many of us have books at home that are under-utilized simply because we cannot keep a mental index of all their contents? The more we are aware of what we may already have that answers a need, the better use we can make of the books that have already found a home with us. In addition to the individual titles and series that are being added to the website continuously, Reshelving Alexandria is working to bring the indexes of anthologies like My Book House and Through Golden Windows and The Children’s Hour to life and include their contents in its search results. I cannot wait for this feature! I too have anthologies that are staring at me judgingly from my shelves muttering, “Why did you just buy that book? That story is included in not one, but three, of our sets!”

The ability to so easily discover living books to request from your local public library and through interlibrary loan is another amazing feature of membership. How often have you searched through your local library’s online catalog looking for books to meet a particular need, overwhelmed with the choices and completely unsure which were living books and which were dead lit? I have been there myself, many times. Borrowing books from the library is a smart option for books that you need only for a season or cannot afford to purchase right now. Reshelving Alexandria has now included the link to each book’s WorldCat listing to make this as easy as possible. Another benefit of the WorldCat system is that it pulls results from college and university libraries as well as public libraries. Many colleges and universities have kept their collections from the golden age of children’s literature for teaching purposes. If you find that there are books you love at a local college or university it is well worth calling to see if they have a community lending policy, many do! This is an easier way to get access to many wonderful books without having to go through the interlibrary loan request process each time.

If the book you are hoping to find is in print, and not in your local library’s collection already, it is a great idea to request that your public library purchase a copy! Often there is a link to suggest a title for purchase on your library’s search results page when the search turns up empty. Suggesting titles for purchase, either of living books written recently or of quality reprints from presses such as Bethlehem Books, Rabbit Room, Purple House Press, and others not only allows your family to read and enjoy these titles, it also makes them available for other families to find and fall in love with too!

When a book is available for free online through Internet Archive it is linked on the Reshelving Alexandria book page and you can search specifically for these books. This is an excellent option for books that are beyond your budget, books that you want to read or preview before you make a purchasing decision, and books you only need for a short time. And for people who have limited space, live in remote areas, or can't have books in their home for health or other reasons, their digital home libraries can grow by having access to download or borrow these books online.

Buying Books on a Budget

Would you like to find books that aren’t quite free, but are still far below online market price? Be sure you are marking the nearby library book sales on your family calendar, including them in your family budget, and making a field trip! Have you checked out and added those sales to your agenda? As libraries continue to cull their collections and sell books donated to their friends of the library groups, there are wonderful opportunities to fill your own library with living books for just a few dollars each. Some libraries have even greater deals, books for a quarter or even bag sales!

Library book sales, just like thrift stores, are a great place for finding living books in need of a good home, even if it isn’t yours! If you spot a treasure and it is one that you have already or don’t have space for, why not pick it up for someone else to love? Reselling books in Facebook groups such as the Reshelving Alexandria Marketplace is incredibly easy. Supplementing your own book buying budget while rescuing books that might otherwise be destroyed and blessing others with the joy of getting to add them to their families’ libraries can be a win win for everyone. Perhaps you have a teenager or two with an excess of both time and tech skills who would love to try their hands at an online book business opportunity!

Do you set aside time to go book hunting at thrift stores, antique malls, and flea markets? I encourage you to take some time while out erranding and see if there are treasures waiting to be discovered near you that you may have overlooked. That Habitat for Humanity Restore on the far side of town? When they pick up grandma’s old living room furniture, they collect her pile of old books too! The Goodwill, Salvation Army, or Savers that you have driven past a thousand times on the way to soccer practice? There could be a shelf full of Signature biographies that an elementary school just donated to make room for its new computer room! The flea market across the street from the kid’s orthodontist? It may have a McClung nature book sitting there in a pile of pretty vintage twaddle. Spending time on the Reshelving Alexandria website, especially with its color photos of spines, covers, and dust jackets, makes it easier to recognize treasures quickly. But the books on the Reshelving Alexandria website are just a small sampling of living books, and the same goes for any and every living book booklist. The fact that a book hasn’t made it onto a booklist of living books or isn’t on the Reshelving Alexandria website yet doesn’t mean it isn’t a living book!

Take some time to flip through unknown books yourself when hunting for living books ‘in the wild’ to see if they draw you in. Does the author use lively, engaging vocabulary to paint vivid word pictures? Can you close your eyes and imagine what the author just described? Are the illustrations lovely? Does its narrative style sound like only a real, live, thinking, feeling person could have written it? Does it spark the imagination with curiosity and wonder? Does it leave you with a greater understanding of yourself and empathy for those around you? Does it reach for the True, Good, and Beautiful? Chances are you found a living book! The more living literature you read the more easily you will be able to spot a living book in the wild. Spending time curled up on the couch with your children enjoying your library of living books is the best preparation you can get for recognizing other living books as you find them!

We sometimes forget how varied the book-rescuing scene is, and unconsciously assume others are experiencing what we are. Some of us live in areas of the country saturated with quality living books waiting to be brought home for pennies. We live in communities that were settled hundreds of years ago, near large universities and colleges, in cities and towns that have enjoyed the prosperity that allowed for large public and private book collections. Others of us live in book deserts, our libraries having already culled or never having had these treasures to begin with, our states until recently frontiers, our communities historically poor, a sizable family library something out of reach for all but the most wealthy until very recently. Just as Reshelving Alexandria helps those of us in book-rich areas know which books in the wild are treasures worth saving, it also helps those of us in book-dry areas utilize our resources to find these books online at the best prices by following the sorts of frugal purchasing strategies discussed in Deanna’s article Thrift Store Shopping Without Leaving Your House. Reshelving Alexandria has even linked to several of these used buying options from each book page so it couldn’t be simpler!

Buying reprints of expensive out of print books when available is another easy way to save a great deal of money when library building. This is the plus side of the price increases for out of print living books, the ultimate outcome of this increased demand for living literature: communities of living book lovers are creating a marketplace that is hungry for quality reprints of these treasures. The website highlights beautiful, well-made ‘recommended reprints,’ making it easier than ever to add these to our libraries. When purchasing these reprints, it is a delight not only to save the money these gems would otherwise have cost, but also to encourage these small publishers to continue in their good work! In addition, our demand for quality books serves to encourage today’s writers to hone their craft and elevate their subject matter so that there will be plenty of new, well-written, living books that celebrate the True, Good, and Beautiful to share with our children. Not all old books are living books, and not all living books are old!

Looking for substitutions for expensive books, especially unicorns, is another way to save. As books continue to be added to the Reshelving Alexandria website, the abundance of living books there are to choose from for the same reading level and about the same subject will become more and more apparent. For most subjects, choosing a book that is not a unicorn does not automatically equal choosing second-best! There is not just one excellent living book about George Washington, or Caterpillars, or Mozart. Unlike a traditional booklist that is constrained by number of pages and has to be reprinted to be expanded, one of the truly unique features of Reshelving Alexandria is its nearly limitless capacity for growth. There is so much more living literature to discover, learn about, and share with each other. What we see now on Reshelving Alexandria is just a tiny amuse bouche of the feast that is to come!

Build YOUR Library

And finally, the simplest and most important way to save money when building your library of living books? Build your library. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking, subconsciously even, that the Reshelving Alexandria website is a must-have booklist for every family, rushing out to grab a copy the minute a new book or series is added. But this is precisely what Reshelving Alexandria is not. Instead of being a one-size-fits-all booklist, Reshelving Alexandria gives us the ability to customize our library for our own unique family. Using the reading levels, plot descriptions, content considerations, and the many other tools that are provided, we can choose to include in our libraries just those books that fit us best. As Mrs. Bright was fond of saying in Bright April, clothes should look like they grew on a person. How much more so should libraries be uniquely suited to the families that give them their shape and form! Each one of us has to prioritize which books we add to our library based on space and budget. But just as importantly, we need to carefully and lovingly tailor our library to our family, building a library that reflects our family’s values, captures its imagination, celebrates its cultural heritage, offers windows into new worlds for us to discover, and inspires us in our quest for Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

Johanna Bittle

Johanna Bittle writes from a lifelong love of captivating story. Homeschooled through high school, she graduated from Hillsdale College having studied History and Classics. She shares her pursuit of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful with her half-dozen precocious children, whom she schools at home.