My husband Patrick is a terrible book snob. Not a literary snob, mind you -- he'll read anything that catches his wandering attention, regardless of pedigree -- but a book snob. Most of the time, only hardbacks will do. He won't even try to explain it. Not me. Ever since we unplugged the TV five years ago, I've become a paperback junkie. I'll read the occasional biography or memoir, but most of the time, I'm up to my eyeballs in novels. I plow through them too fast to afford hardbacks all the time, and the bendy covers don't bug me.
These days, however, the bookshelves in the family room are beginning to sag under the weight of books shelved two deep. I thought about trekking around to the used bookstores to unload a few boxes. "Don't bother," said Patrick over his latest hardback. "I'll bet a lot of them already have more paperback novels than they want. Just donate them somewhere and rejoice in your good deed." My friend Bernice added her two cents on behalf of my two cents. "If you want to donate them, I think you might be able to get a deduction on your taxes..." Perfect.
My first stop was with Barbara Bain Mello, EA, of BBM Financial and Tax Services (619-579-5530). "Books are considered a non-cash donation," she told me. "If the value is under $500, it just goes under Itemized Deductions on the Schedule A form. What you need to include is the name of the charitable organization, the date and location of the contribution, a reasonably detailed description -- you don't have to write down every book's title, you can just say, '10 paperback novels' -- and then the fair market value. For used paperback books that would be thrift store value: I'd say $.50 to $1.00 a book. You kind of do your best estimating, but a tax practitioner can tell you best. Now, if you have hardcover books and they're in excellent condition, they could be worth $10 a book." I could almost hear Patrick chuckling.
"If the value of the books you're donating is over $500 ," continued Mello, "you still submit the same basic information, but you need Form 8283. On that form, you must also show what your cost was and the date of the acquisition -- when you bought the bulk of the items you are donating. You can sometimes get the form at a post office, or you can call 1-800-829-1040, and the government will send it to you. If you have access to a computer, you can download it -- the IRS site ( www.irs.gov ) is user-friendly."
Also crucial, said Mello, was getting a receipt. "All the organizations will give you a receipt. Even when Goodwill, Am Vets, or the Salvation Army picks stuff up from your house, they will leave a receipt. They may not fill it out, in which case it's up to the person donating to fill it out. You should keep the receipts for three years in the case of federal taxes, and four years for state taxes." And, of course, she reminded me as I headed out, "You need to make the claim in the same year that you make the donation."
I started my spree of charitable book donation at what seemed the most likely place: the library. Jose Aponte, director of the San Diego County Library, told me, "We encourage book donations from the public, but the collection has a selection policy, a plan. We accept all books, and if some of them don't go into our collection, they work their way down to the Friends of the Library. They in turn sell the books, and the money goes to support library services. Ultimately, one way or another, your donation goes to support our broad-base bottom line."
What makes it into the collection? "Libraries have broad-based collections that reflect the entire spectrum of thought, philosophy, and politics. We have a Nazi book, a communist book, the whole complement. And if we have 20 Danielle Steel novels, we may not need 21. And the selection policy changes: in the next two years, we'll be working to build up language services. There will be a focus on Spanish-language material. Three years from now, we may shift to Korean."
Aponte said that books could be donated to any one of the 32 county library branches, and also to the two bookmobiles, which make regular stops (branch locations and stops can be found at www.sdcl.org). "Just let the staff know they are donations."
At the San Diego City Library's central location (820 E Street, open Monday and Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.), I was told, "We take books anytime, and we give receipts. However, we don't accept encyclopedias, Reader's Digest , or National Geographic . If you want to donate to a city branch, call ahead of time and make sure they have enough room to take them (check www.sandiego.gov/public-library/locations/ for branch locations and hours). If you have a whole bunch of books and want someone to pick them up, call The Friends of the Public Library at 619-542-1724." The Friends of the Public Library's offices are located at 4193 Park Boulevard and are open for walk-in donations on Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Other places to donate:
Disabled American Veterans, 1-800-795-VETS. Limit of two small bags or two small boxes. No textbooks accepted. Will pick up only if books are accompanied by at least one bag of clothing.
St. Vincent DePaul Village, 619-446-2100. Limit of two bags or two boxes. Call to schedule pickup.
Salvation Army, 619-758-1716, 3240 Sports Arena Boulevard. Accepts all books (but no magazines) anytime during business hours, Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Alvarado Hospital, 619-229-4619, 6655 Alvarado Road. Can accept a limited number of paperback books and magazines (no magazines older than three months) brought to the volunteer office during business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
San Diego Hospice, 619-688-1600, 4311 Third Avenue. Can accept a limited number of books. Call ahead.
My Sister's Closet, 619-299-1474, 3590 Fifth Avenue. Works in conjunction with Battered Women's Services, which provides vouchers for the store. Accepts books Monday through Saturday, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.