So, at the thrift store, you see a book that you know Mrs. _______ would love. You have to get her a birthday gift next month. Do you get the book used to gift to her?
The answer: It depends.
It depends on both what kind of person Mrs. ______ is, and what condition the book is in. Here are the common ailments of used books and how you can try correct them, as well as how they affect the books ability to become a gift to someone new.
Common Used Book Ailments / Re-Gift-ability:
Germs - All fearful of the microbes, most all germs are dead within days (MRSA can take up to a few weeks) of being outside a human body. Check out this post here for more info on their life spans outside a human body. So, if you are worried about a used book bringing in some sickness, put it in 'quarantine' (or, like me, forget you bought it and leave in the car for a week.) Don't wipe down books with alcohol or windex/ammonia or bleach, as chemicals tend to make plastic brittle and paper yellow. Wiping down the exterior cover of a book to remove smudges is fine, just do so with a barely-damp cloth and water, adding just a tiny smidgen of soap if you are really concerned about 'clean'. Any kids 'floppy' books can be hot water and soap bathed, and many cloth books are machine washable - just make sure to air dry them so they don't shrink.
Re-Gift-ability Score - 10
Don't let used status and unknown provenance prevent a book purchase as a gift. Plan ahead to have it cleaned/aired out before giving, make sure that the recipient wouldn't freak out if she were to know it was a used book, and you will be fine. However, common sense people - I would recommend avoiding the books with full-on boogers stuck on, as fluid stains don't really come off. (eeewwww.)
To remove the sticker, methods vary, but I have good luck with the following. If the sticker is in a prominent place (front cover) then spot test the cover material with the oil to make sure it doesn't cause discoloration.
First, work up one corner of the sticker with fingernail or plastic knife edge, and then 'worry' at it, slowly pushing and pulling up a little bit more at a time, so the adhesive material is pulled up with each little tug and the paper doesn't separate from the adhesive. If it does, use a plastic butter knife edge or credit card to gently push any remaining paper fibers off. Then, with a drop of essential oil or Goo-Gone and a lint-free cloth, rub in circular motions to remove the adhesive gunk. Use as little oil as possible to get the job done. Wipe and buff the area to clear it of all oil. All done!
Re-Gift-ability Score - 10
Most outside stickers can be removed from books without any sign they were ever there, so feel free to de-sticker and regift these books if otherwise fine. If the book is more than 5-10 years, peak under any older stickers to make sure it didn't fade unevenly (which makes it not a great gift).
General dust/dirt - Just sitting on a shelf accumulates a bit of dust and can turn pristine white pages a bit dull. To clean books page edges, hold the pages together tight, with the book's binder up, pages down. Wipe the page edges down with an 'eraser pad' (loose eraser particles in a puff bag) and let the eraser bits lift up and hold loose dirt. Take a soft, clean puffy brush (like that make-up blush brush you never actually used on anything) and run it after the eraser pad to remove eraser bits. If no brush, try a vacuum to remove static-clung eraser crumbs. If no eraser pad, blow dust off and gently rub over with an art gum eraser, then vacuum off crumbs.
Re-Gift-ability Score - 7
In general, books that look dirty aren't well received as gifts unless the person cares more about the topic than condition (just the 'perfect' book for that someone.) If the book cover/edges clean up well, gift away, but buy them with a back-up plan in mind, in case the dirt and dust won't budge.
Paper is tiny fibers, and when a fiber takes up particles that smell, it doesn't willingly release it all at once. You can, however, mitigate smells like smoke, perfume, or animal (not so much ammonia) by speeding up the rate at which the fiber draws in other things. First, make sure the book is dried out. Second, consider a commercial dryer sheet between every few pages for a few days (masking over whatever smelly particles are still there). Try place the book in a bag or box with baking soda or clean kitty litter (absorption of particles by something else) - just keep the book from actually being in contact with those so it doesn't get dusty.
Re-Gift-ability Score - 0-1
Smells often are not just unpleasant, but some can cause headaches or reactions to people with allergies. A book is held right up to the nose, nearly, so never buy a book for a gift if you can smell where it came from. If you de-stink one successfully and want to gift it, make sure that person doesn't have any allergies that could still be set off by the original cause of the smell.
Edge marks -
Re-Gift-ability Score - 7-8
Most edge marks are removable with a little care, and even if a faint darkening is still there, even new books take on these 'beauty marks' from packaging. Doubtful any but the OCD will even notice. Just make sure to try remove any that look like oily fingerprints.
Writing On the Inside Cover -
Many people gift books and sign the inside cover or inside first page. When re-gifting a book like this, or putting it in use for other reasons then your own reading, consider making a print out page with a new message to paste over top. Print the tag on thick paper, put PVA/white school glue on the back of tag as thin as possible, then adhere into book over writing. The key here is 'very thin' coating of glue, spread 'barely-there' with an old credit card or stiff plastic edge. Press a clean credit card or stiff plastic edge over the top of the paper as well, to ensure it is fully flat and smooth against the book and doesn't try to wrinkle when drying. Printing on cardstock will also help keep the printed image sharp. If you don't want to risk the drying wrinkles, consider printing on full sticker sheets, available at office supply stores, or using an acid-free spray adhesive. Cut to size and adhere.
Re-Gift-ability Score - 2-4
Although covering it up is a must if you are going to regift it to all but the most appreciative people, some people really get uncomfortable receiving 'someone else's' gift - like they weren't good enough to get their own. For really young children, I'd say go for it- they will love writing their name on the tag. For a little older children through teenagers, avoid it unless you know they'll love the book. Adults are hit or miss regarding this, so know the person you are gifting.
BTW: Here is a sample "book tag" I made for my sister's library of crafting books. Feel free to use this for your own books if you have a mind to (I may add a few other themed ones, later on):
Lifting cover corners -
When the very corners of a book have the plastic/laminate start to separate from the paperboard material, you can sometimes stop the progression with the lightest hand, a tiny brush, some white glue, and a 'shine' of clear nail polish for shiny plastic covers, or white elmer's glue for matte-finish covers or paperbacks. This can cause some coloring on the inside white paper of the cover (from absorbing moisture in either glue or polish), but it will keep the corner crisp.
Re-Gift-ability Score - 5
Books, especially their bottom right corners, take some abuse, and a little wear won't subtract from a beautifully bound how-to book, or a can't wait to read paperback. However, don't gift these books to people who 'show off' their books as much as read them, or collect them. Most of my friends are already buying used books for themselves, so I hardly look at the corner tip conditions anymore, and glue them down just to keep them from getting worse.
It's well known, the crayon drawings ruining otherwise pristine children's books. I was curious if there was a 'good' way to get the crayon off and dried a few online tips. I tried the dry magic eraser (don't), a kneadable pencil eraser (the best) and a white 'polymer' pencil eraser (2nd place). If you read about wax paper pulling it off, I think that is hoo-ey, or you need really high quality wax paper to make it work, because I tried that on a corner and it didn't even shine the crayon wax, let alone adhere it to the wax paper. The magic eraser (dry) wears off the surface of the page, taking off the wax, but I'm afraid it is too harsh, and for a colored kid's book page, this would just make the page look worn and colored on. Kneadable eraser, suggested by Crayola, removed the waxy sheen and some of the dye coloring, though it was still noticeble on white paper. Try this first if you have an art student rather than reader. The white polymer eraser removed about the same amount of wax and dye as the kneadable, though left a little more dye color behind. These methods can help lessen the look of the crayon, but I fear crayons, made of wax and dyes, will stay tight to the paper fibers they are drawn on.
Re-Gift-ability Score - 0
Crayons negate a book for re-gifting, because someone else literally 'changed the story' with their crayon (remember The Purple Crayon?). However, these books can still be just given to kids that just like books, as it may not affect the enjoyment any. Know the kid, and try a kneadable or white eraser to mitigate the damage.
Pen and pencil-
Kneadable erasers or polymer erasers also work well for some pen and most pencil marks, as they are the softest erasers and pick up material as they are wiped over it. Gel pens tend to just smear.
Re-Gift-ability Score - 1-3
It really depends on if the pen or pencil a) went across one page or is on every page, and b) the type of book. Many times you see penciled in notes throughout a book - if the topic is one that is hard to find books on, your friend may understand your purchasing used, and if he is studying the topic, may even get a kick out of someone else's notes. As for accidental streaks, one pen mark can easily be overlooked in a hefty reference book, but not so across a glossy picture in a coffee table book. If you can erase it, all the better, but save your energy for the books you know the recipient wants to read thoroughly and not 'look' at.
Loose pages -
Instant no-no for a re-gift, but to save a good book, use invisible tape and run it the entire length of the entire page that is falling out, taping the seam of first it to the page on its left (crease down tape with fingernail), then turn the page naturally, and repeat, taping the seam of it to the page to its right. Fully torn or ripped pages can be carefully aligned and taped, but will almost always look like they were torn or ripped, and most tapes aren't acid-free, so will be yellowing in a few years. If you really need the book to be repaired well, consider bringing it to the library and using a bit of their book repair tape (an acid-free tissue paper type tape with water activated adhesive that blends into paper and lets ink be read through it.) The only books that really are worth this effort, in my opinion, are required reference or education books that simply cost too much to not keep in repair.
Re-Gift-ability Score -0
Don't bother. If there are pages coming loose, the book's binding system is likely not holding up, and the whole point of giving books is giving something of value that will last. Unless someone would want the book for ripping apart and crafting, don't consider gifting books with loose pages.
Buying Used Books AND Re-Gifting NO-NO's:
- Water damage/wavy pages
- Signs/smells of mold or must
- Broken and snapped spines or bindings
- More than one torn/ripped page
- Smoke damage/heavy smoke smell
- Signs of insect or mouse infestation
Wondering WHICH books to look for to give? Here is a neat article that sums up some ideas for book intentions to consider to gift to people.