Each independently-owned used bookstore has different rules about what books to buy. We've posted our policy that we never accept former library books and are otherwise somewhat strict about not taking books with a lot of markings in them. Other stores have different policies. In general, the differences have to do with what kind of people want what kind of books, as well as what the bookstore's owner wants to select.
We have, in the past, been offered some really great books with some heavy underlining inside. We've heard from some of our customers that they would buy books with underlining, and sometimes, if we're really short on a book frequently used for classes, we'll buy underlined copies. We also make exceptions on the library rule for books that were owned by monastery libraries (they tend not to put too many stickers and stamps in) or for books over a hundred years old. On the whole, however, if we receive books containing a lot of underlining or with owners' stamps on the front cover or the edges of the book, we donate them to our ongoing Benefit Sale for Local Foods Connection or, if they are heavily damaged, we recycle them.
There are several reasons that this store has this policy. Let me enumerate a few. 1. We have a lot of books, and we buy a lot of books, so when we're buying, we have to think about what we have room to shelve. We're offered a lot of beautifully kept books, so we tend to prefer those. 2. Though some of our customers don't mind or even like prior owners' marks like underlining and inscriptions, many dislike such marks. 3. We price underlined books lower than we price clean ones, but lower still doesn't always make for customer satisfaction. As a matter of business, it's better policy to stock things that make our customers happier - and on which we can make some amount of profit.
With regard to library books, there are many more reasons not to carry them: for one thing, there are dozens of places to buy former library books in Iowa City, often for $3 or less. It wouldn't be cost-effective for us to try to 'compete in that market,' as the business types would say. For another, some have embedded security devices that cause inconvenient beeping noises in buildings with alarm systems, which also raises the problem of having to check each book for discard marks to be certain the library doesn't expect to get them back. And for a third, library books have often been subjected to a great deal more wear than single-owner books; we worry about whether the bindings are still good, whether a page might have gotten torn out, that sort of thing. It's more efficient to turn them all down than to go through each, page by page and signature by signature, to make sure that they are still in good enough condition for a new reader to enjoy.
There are some marks we don't mind as much. A prior owner's name, a date, a meaningful inscription in a very old (100+) book, a neatly affixed bookplate, all are acceptable. What we don't want are marks disfiguring the outside of the book or marks in the text itself. We are more lenient about margin marks and pencil marks than we are about heavily penciled or penned underlining, and we are more lenient about underlining than about highlighting. If you have questions about whether your books meet our guidelines, feel free to call, email, or stop in.
For those of you who order books online, here are the technical terms for what we do and don't accept:
- POI or Prior Owner's Inscription - this is usually just a name on the front free endpaper, also known as a 'flyleaf'. (There are two front endpapers - the fixed and the free - left and right sides of what is usually the same sheet of paper, half of which is glued inside the front cover and the other half of which protects the first printed page.) - These are fine.
- Bookplate tipped in / affixed / at the front endpaper. - (Tipped in and affixed are the most common terms for something stuck to a page in the book; we say 'laid in' if it's not attached.) If the bookplate's glue damaged the page, this might be a problem, but usually we don't mind bookplates.
- Mild staining / toning from pressed leaf/flower at pages x-y - As long as it's mild, we don't mind. (Toning is our term for when something acidic, either laid in or sometimes the book's paper itself, causes the pages to turn yellow or even brown.)
- Scattered pencil marks in the text - these are sometimes okay, depending on the book. Same goes for scattered pen marks in the margins.
- "Prior owner's stamp at edge of page block" or "black mark at edge of page block" are kind of suspicious. Sometimes what is being called a "prior owner's stamp" is actually a publisher's "not for sale" or "not for resale" stamp, which means that selling it isn't strictly legal. It might also be a library stamp, including a really big, ugly "DISCARD" stamp. "Black marks" or "publisher's remainder marks" can sometimes be a warning that the book was printed for one of those giant print runs on cheap paper, which means the pages might have toning, which happens quickly with cheap paper. We will sometimes accept books with remainder marks, as long as they are otherwise in excellent condition, but we never pay first edition or collectible prices for remainder marked books, nor should you when you are buying books.
We do not accept:
- "Ex lib. with usual / expected marks / stamps" - I've seen this description all over the internet. It seems to mean library book with any or all of: spine sticker, call numbers written on the outside or inside, library stamps on the first, last, and sometimes middle pages, card pockets, handling spots or stains inside or outside, or worse. My general rule of thumb is: if the seller doesn't take the time to explain to you what 'usual' or 'expected' marks are, the marks are probably really ugly or the seller might just be careless.
- "May have underlining / highlighting / marks in text" - see above.
- "Extensive underlining / highlighting / margin marks" - another description we'd never use, ourselves. What is extensive? Is it extensive enough to keep the book from being useful? Not very clear.
- "Heavy foxing" - Foxing is what we call the little brown freckle-like marks that sometimes appear at the top edges of undusted books or at the first few pages or illustration pages of old books. We don't mind a few specks, but if they even come close to obscuring the printed words or the illustrations, we won't take the book.
- "Bleed-through" or "red/green/blue/etc. stain at edges / on pages x to y" - This is almost always an indication that the book got wet enough for the cover to bleed ink into the pages, which means the cover and pages may be warped, moldy, stuck together, etc. A faint coffee spot may be all right on the outside edge of an academic book, but a coffee spot that stained the margins or text or made the page edges ripple is not.
As always, if you have questions, feel free to ask. We're happy to help you figure out which internet-listed book is right for you or how to describe the condition of your book.