Monday musings on Australian literature: Bookselling for charity

Old books

Old books (Courtesy: OCAL @

Last week I wrote a Monday Musings about the current, relatively positive, state of play for bookshops in Australia. Responding to that post on Facebook, one of my longstanding friends, and an original member of my bookgroup, reminded me of the Lifeline Bookfair which is held regularly in Canberra, and to which I have donated many books. I didn’t mention Lifeline because that post was about shops selling “new” books. However, she made me realise that while I have also written about secondhand book shops before, I have never specifically written about those organisations which sell books to raise money for charity (or good works). Now is that time …

First, though, a brief comment. A few years ago, knowing that bookselling is the prime fundraiser for some charities, such as Lifeline, I wondered what would happen to their fundraising goals in the new world of digital books. Well, I needn’t have worried. Books are still raising plenty of funds for charities. I’m not the only one, it appears, who still loves the printed book!

Lifeline Bookfair (Canberra)

The most visible seller of books for charity in my city is Lifeline. Lifeline is a national organisation providing 24-hour crisis support, particularly, but not exclusively, in the area of suicide prevention. It relies on volunteers to staff the support phones, and to raise money for the work of the organisation. A major fundraiser in my city – and I think in other parts of Australia – is the Lifeline Bookfair, which is held three times a year. It is hugely successful, and a big-ticket event on Canberra booklovers’ calendars. (Not mine, though. I donate to it, but I stay away! If I ever start to run out of books to read, however, I know where to go!) For Lifeline Canberra, these bookfairs are “the cornerstone” of their “financial strategy”, and currently bring in between $1 to $2 million for the organisation.

As well as the physical book fairs, Lifeline also runs an online service. I should add that besides books, they also sell records, DVDs, CDs, jigsaws and related products. For Mr Gums, Lifeline is a good source for the foreign language books (German, to be precise) that he likes to read.

There are Lifeline organisations throughout Australia and many, if not all, raise funds through booksales. We donated, for example, many books from my Aunt’s estate last year to her nearest Sydney operation.

Brotherhood Books

This is a social enterprise run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence which aims to tackle poverty in Australia. Its bookselling, mainly carried out online but also available through their physical stores in Victoria, is also volunteer run. They say that when you buy books from them

you also keep them out of landfill, reduce your carbon footprint, and support the many worthy charitable programs run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Vinnies and Salvos

St Vincent de Paul (Vinnies) and the Salvation Army (Salvos) run secondhand shops throughout Australia, and sell books at these shops along with clothing and household goods. Both organisations aim to reduce social injustice, particularly poverty.

Vinnies, and probably Salvos, also give books to families in need.


And of course, there’s an array of smaller charities which sell books to support their activities, starting with school, church and hospital fetes and stalls.

Also, the Australian online donations platform, GiveNow, lists a number of organisations which accept donated books, some of these to sell for fundraising (such as Brotherhood Books) and others to distribute to those in need (such as the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation, which is particularly interested in children’s books).

Do you buy from, or donate to, charity booksellers? Please give a shout out to your favourite/s – particularly if I haven’t mentioned them here.

25 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Bookselling for charity

  1. In Perth Save the Children have an annual book sale at UWA (a couple of weeks ago) and another at Cannington in about a fortnight. Both run for 5 or 6 days. They also have at least one bookshop, in Belmont Forum (or did have, it’s being refurbished).

  2. You’ve covered all the charity bookshops I know about, but there’s another group of booksellers – libraries, or at least the rural ones I know.

    I live in far west NSW, and most of the council libraries here, and in NW Victoria, have shelves or tables of books for sale. I regularly check out Mildura, but I’ve also found goodies at Bourke and Cobar libraries. Mildura prices are $1 hardback, 50c paperback, Cobar charged an outrageous $3. Broken Hill has the best bargains: the last time I was there the books were 10c each. I selected nine, gave them a dollar and said keep the change.

    The library in my town, Wentworth (across the Murray from Mildura) doesn’t have a regular sale table, but once a year takes over the town hall with a grand sale of books from the library turnover and donations.

    Recently Mildura Library has started a new venture: provide a book swap at Mildura Airport: . Are there any other airports that have something similar?

    • Oh yes Jeannette, thanks. I’d include them as charities really as they are raising funds to help their libraries. Book swaps are another thing and I was thinking deserve another post. Those free libraries in suburbs, etc. I think I’d heard about airport ones but haven’t seen them.

  3. Im trying to think of an equivalent in the UK but am stumped. Oxfam has its own dedicated bookshops and also an online store but books are just one of a number of things they sell so not really the same thing

  4. Thanks for this list – at stocktake time we always have books we have to get rid of, and we’ve found that some charities don’t want books! Another difficulty is having to carry a heavy box of books ,,, but it’s all worthwhile.

    • Yes, that is an issue, Anna, carrying big boxes of books, I mean. Some places don’t have great drop-offs. We found the Lifeline had an excellent drop-off shed not to far from my aunt’s house (that we were clearing out). But here in Canberra, the only drop off is on the other side of town, which is a decent drive, and as I rarely go that way so it’s petrol (energy) wasted to go over there. If it weren’t for my lovely friend who will accept our books to take with her when she goes volunteering, I suspect more of my books would go to Vinnies and Salvos. But they get my other donations and I really want to support Lifeline, which I believe gets more value out of donated books because it’s what they know and focus on.

  5. I take books to the Little Free Libraries in some neighbourhoods and to the library store, but there are not a lot of options for charity donations nearby which work well for me. Sometimes I just put them in a box at the curb – which always works well – but I’d prefer another kind of solution, like those you’ve outlined here…

    • Sounds like you have some good options however, Buried. The Little Free Libraries are a great idea – but I’m guessing work mainly for contemporary (mostly) fiction and non-fiction like memoirs? We don’t have any in my local area but I have seen them in other places (and I think they are in other parts of my city).

  6. Someone (who?) recently mentioned that every year after the Book Fair, Lifeline dumps (hopefully at least recycles) unsold books. Does anyone know about this? Is it true? I don’t like the idea of the goodwill of the donors going to the tip; though recycling is easier to accept.

    • Hi Lesley, fair point. Hopefully my friend might reply (here or to me and I’ll pass it on). She has told me, but I’ve forgotten the details. I think some do get recycled but they do send books elsewhere, including to other Lifelines in Australia. My understanding is that they work very hard to not dump books. I’d imagine there are some they can’t sell, but that they’d be either very obscure, or more likely in very poor condition, or things they can’t sell (like the encyclopaedias that they ask you not to donate). I’m not worried about my donations to them not being handled with respect.

  7. I love Brotherhood Books because they are online, with an excellent search facility and prompt delivery service. I have bought heaps and heaps of books from them.
    Not quite in the same realm as booksellers for charity are the book exchanges: I donate to two, the Hampton Community Centre and the Friends of Braeside Park. I particularly like the Community Centre one (where I have my French lessons) because they have art groups and other activities for disabled people and they are keen borrowers of the books there too. I also donate to my local Family Life OpShop where I am also a regular customer, pouncing on old Penguins and Viragos whenever I see them.

    • Yes, I knew to look Brotherhood Books up, Lisa, because of your frequent positive mentions of them (though they also came up in my Google search).

      And thanks for naming your other favourite places!

    • Oh my, how can I have never heard of Brotherhood Books? Just had a quick squizz- I’ll certainly keep them in mind for the future. I do love a used book sale and I attend my local Lifeline sales at every opportunity so I usually get to two a year. I’ve been noting the Canberra Lifeline booksales in my calendar for a few years but have never been able to make it (yet)- I really want to get there one time. We have a local school that has a few book sales a year, and one of the local churches does an annual one.

  8. The Townsville Hospital used to have a big used book fair every year and it’s back after a hiatus 😀 Next weekend, in fact.

    The women in my book club talk about their charity book strategies. They give their used books to either the hospital or a nursing home nearby. Both provide books for free to residents, but also sell them to visitors for 50 cents each (nursing home) or $2 (hospital).

    One of them visits the nursing home and buys 6 books, for $3. Any she doesn’t want, she passes on to the hospital straight away (and she buys a few more from there). Any hospital books she finishes, she donates to the nursing home and vice versa, so they get a bit more variety and rotation! I’m very keen to visit both book sales but haven’t made it yet. The book fair next weekend though, I’m super excited about.

    • Thanks for this Theresa. I love that your bookgroup members discuss their charity book strategies, particularly the one who actively moves books around. Wow. A friend and I are thinking of organising an ILF book-swap at her work (and my ex-work) but I think we’ve missed this year again.

      BTW My Mum was born in Townsville, but am not sure that it was in Townsville Hospital as we were discussing this quite recently.

      • I love charity shops and buying and donating to them….you just never know what you will find. In pruning book collections there is nothing like filling up a van or truck with books to go!

        • Haha, Ian, there isn’t. Today I got stuck into my cookbooks! There are so many I don’t use anymore (and we had to move that bookcase to make way for new heating) but they all have history and it’s hard to let them go. I bought this one when we travelled in South Carolina, this one in Italy, this one was my late sister’s, and so on. BUT I can’t take them with me and someone will be sure to love them.

  9. I volunteer at the Christ Church Op Shop in Essendon (Vic). We dedicate two Saturday’s during the year to selling bags of books for $5.00 each. Also, in the school holidays children’s books are half price. We have a great collection of books, and magazines from women magazines, gardening, home decoration, craft, sport and golf etc. We do not accept encyclopedias. All our books are very cheap. We do have to dump some books as we receive too many donations. However at the same time some are given to a prison and a nursing home. We also have a free box. I love to visit op shops I have picked up some very good books.

    • I love hearing about all these charity shop/op shop activities Meg. How great that yours sells children’s books at half price in holidays. Nice. Makes a bit of money still but supports literacy too. I can’t imagine any secondhand bookseller not having to dump some books – presumably to paper recycling – because some books must surely just reach the end of their lives for one reason or another.

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