Book Bytes

by Marylaine Block

How To Find Out-of-Print Books


note to librarians: Feel free to copy this and hand it out to patrons.

A lot of people have been e-mailing me, saying, in effect, that when they used my lists of unputdownable books I got their hopes up, inspired them with a longing for a particular book, and then they found out that the book was out of print, and would I please tell them what to do next? So, here are some tips from an old pro (book hunter, that is).

If You Don't Want To Buy It, Just Read It...

Check WorldCat <>, a database with the holdings of thousands of libraries, to find out what libraries near you might own the book. If it's not your own library, go to your public library, anyway. They should be able to get it for you on interlibrary loan. Nowadays, thanks to online catalogs, librarians can find out what books are owned by thousands of libraries. What's more, we can even ask online to borrow them, and often can get them within days. (Not always, though. The more obscure the book (and some of the ones I've recommended are nowhere near as well-known as they deserve to be), the farther afield your library may have to go to find it.) If you prefer a version you can read on an e-reader or mobile device, check your public library's web site to see if they offer digital downloads.

If You Do Want To Acquire It, and It's Out of Print

  1. Thousands of out of copyright titles are available as digitized texts that can be downloaded for free to computers, e-readers and mobile devices. One place you can start is Project Gutenberg, <>. Digital Book Index <> allows you to search for over 165,000 specific titles. Books and reports in science, medicine, and the social sciences published by the National Academies of Science are also free for downloading at <>.

  2. Haunt local antiquarian and used book stores. Let the bookstore owners know what you're looking for. There's also something special about the atmosphere of a good used book store, and there's a real tactile pleasure to handling the books themselves. Besides, when you browse, you often find something you didn't even know you wanted.

  3. Some multi-store search services are available online. I've linked them at the bottom of this page.

  4. Check with your local libraries to find out when they're holding their book sales. These library sales are a splendid place to find books, and dirt cheap at that. (I give children books at Halloween -- not instead of candy, but with candy -- and I buy them, 3 or 4 for a dollar, at library book sales.)

  5. Check out the remainder tables at every bookstore you visit. In some cases, these are books newly out-of-print, or on their way out of print. These are good places to find the ephemeral kinds of books that often don't get preserved, especially humor books.

  6. Visit discount book warehouses. These places specialize in remaindered books, and they have thousands of titles. Humor books, which are ephemeral, and appeal to a narrow audience, often go out of print quickly; they are especially likely to turn up at remainder houses or remainder tables in bookstores. That's where I picked up multiple copies of Henry Beard's delightful French for Cats and Colin McEnroe's bizarre How To Lose Weight through Great Sex with Celebrities (the Elvis Way).

  7. Try eBay.

  8. Visit your local Goodwill and Salvation Army stores and other resale stores, where books are treated as commodities and sold for as little as a quarter apiece. In one large, undiscriminating pile, you may find everything from very used copies of Danielle Steele to first editions of Leaves of Grass to children's books. It takes a certain amount of patience to sort through such disorganized piles, but gold is there waiting to be found.

If You Don't Remember the Author or Title . . .