How to Find Book Donations in Your Community

We do not provide books to prison libraries, chaplains or similar prison programs. We just do not have the resources. We hear that most of the books we mail directly to people in prison end up in the prison library when they are finished with them. So please encourage the people at your facility to write to us. Distributing copies of our order form is an easy way to do that. 

We have learned a few things about finding book donations in the local community. We are happy to share these with prison officials hoping to build their collections.

Review Copies

Contact the newspapers in your city or major city nearby and ask if they have review copies (sometimes called Advanced Reader Copies) they need to get rid of. These are books that are sent unsolicited by publishers in the hopes that the newspaper will review them. Major newspapers often get so many of them, they become a clutter problem in offices. They can’t be sold and are difficult to recycle so prison is the ideal place for them. If you are willing to pick them up, whoever is in charge of dealing with them will be thrilled to hear from you. They tend to be random subjects but are recently published and in new condition. Check the newspaper for book reviews and see if there is an email attached to the writer. That’s a good place to start.

Library Book Sales

Libraries that have book sales often have a ton left over at the end. Several libraries allow us to come at the end of the sale and choose whatever we want for free. Books are usually sorted by subject and those subjects vary widely. Try googling library book sales in your area and try to find the person in charge of the sale – often a volunteer.

Facebook Groups

If your town or area has a “community group” on Facebook, put out the word that you’re collecting books for prisoners and be willing to either pick them up or be a drop off. “Everything is free” or “Buy Nothing” groups are great for this too. Or even put a listing on Craigslist. Book enthusiasts often accumulate so many books that they eventually become a clutter problem. Avid readers get emotionally attached to their books and want them to go to someone who will really appreciate them. In all these cases, you will find book lovers who can’t stand to see good books go to waste. So don’t be shy about asking.

Local Partners

Find a local partner to help you find books. Churches, fraternities, sororities, book clubs, and local service groups are great options. We have heard of local groups like this "adopting" a library in their local prison or jail and frequently running book drives to keep it stocked with good reading material.

Frequently Asked Questions: Our Services for People in Prison

People in prison can write us a letter (via postal mail) and ask for books. The letter should include their name, address, and inmate ID number. It is best to request genres of books rather than specific titles. We also have an online book request form that can be used by people inside or their family and friends.

We encourage prisoners to request genres instead of specific titles. The books in our library vary widely depending on who donates them. We cannot guarantee that we have a specific title in stock. 

Prison Book Program now has an online book request form where you can request books on behalf of your loved one. Please see our book request page if you prefer to print and mail a form.

No. We do not have the capacity to do so. It is prohibitively expensive to send large quantities of books through the mail. If you are a prison official looking for books for your library or program, please see our tips for finding books in your community.

We serve all states except Texas, California, Michigan, Nevada,  and Illinois. 

Michigan does not allow us to mail books to state prisons. Illinois is served exclusively by the amazing Urbana-Champaign Books to Prisoners program so we opted not to serve that state. Nevada requires books to be mailed first class which is not in our budget. Texas and California combined hold 1/5 of the US prison population. We do not have the capacity to serve that many additional people. Other books-to-prisoners groups serve the states we do not serve. See our list of other “Books to Prisoners” programs to find one. 

Because we have never advertised our services, we can only guess. We are occasionally listed on prisoner resource lists circulated by other organizations. People often say they heard about us from other prisoners or contacts on the outside.

All kinds of books. We find that with a few exceptions, the reading interests of folks in prison mimic those of the general public. Dictionaries are our most popular request – by far. We send out more than 2000 per year. Other popular titles include thesauruses, small business startup, drawing, exercise, fiction of all kinds, religion and much more.

People in prison use them for various reasons – writing letters to family, writing legal appeals, or just trying to understand unfamiliar words in the other books we send. Many people enter prison with limited reading skills and use their time to change that. Frustrated by his inability to express himself, Malcolm X famously taught himself to read and write in prison by copying every word in the dictionary.

Our selection of books depends on what people donate. Topics available vary widely. We also buy dictionaries and GED study guides.

In addition to books, we have a self-published legal reference, a resource guide that lists other organizations that help prisoners, and a few other booklets that cover topics that prisoners frequently request.

Most books are donated by individuals just like you. Occasionally, publishers and authors donate extra copies of their books. We also buy dictionaries, thesauruses, and GED study guides in bulk. Many generous people donate new books through our online wish lists too. 

You can request a book on behalf of your loved one, but you cannot provide it. We will not fill requests from people who want to provide the book and have us send it to their designated person. If someone wants to send a specific title to a specific person, the book must come from a retailer or printer.