How I Shop Used Book Sales for Mixed Media Art Supplies, Inspiration & More

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This past weekend I was lucky enough to learn there was not just one library used book sale near me locally – but TWO library book sales.

These used book sales are a great way to get books VERY inexpensively, so today I thought I would share how I shop book sales to find unique mixed media art supplies – and LOTS of inspiration for creativity!

As a girl who practically lives and breathes books, I love supporting our local libraries when they have these fundraising sales.

Many of the books are donated by local residents who no longer need or want the books, so you can really find some interesting surprises that you may not expect at these types of book sales!

A good portion of the books for sale are also retired inventory from the library itself. These are books which may have been published decades ago and have slightly outdated information.

Other times these are simply books which are well-loved and worn but not fit for circulation which the library has replaced with new or updated copies.

You can find so many great books at a book sale, so I wanted to share some tips for how I shop the used book sales.

Read on to learn how I find out when they are happening, what types of books I usually purchase, and of course share some of my finds from the past weekend!


How I Find Book Sales to Shop

While libraries are my go-to source for book sales, they are not the only source for finding great book sales. Many churches, community centers, historical societies and non-profit organizations also offer book sales from time to time.

Estate sales and online auctions can also be a great source for used books – I once scored an entire bookshelf of used books for $12 at an auction this way – including the shelf!

{Important Note: If you bid on an online auction, make sure you have the means to actually pick up the books and the shelving – especially if the shelving is a fixture attached to the wall – some muscle & tools will likely be required, and there may not be electricity for power tools at the site!}

For events that are local to me, I try to stay updated by following my library’s social media accounts for events. It also helps that I have a cousin who works at one of the libraries near where I live, and she is always on top of things to remind me when the best events are happening!

Other places you can find out about used book sales near you:

  • Locally published independent newspapers and magazines. We have a ton of locally published newspapers and magazines. You can usually find these free publications inside the lobby area of grocery stores, restaurants, and other places in your community.
  • Craigslist.org: Look for listings posted in the “community” section. You may also want to try doing a search on their website for “used books” and “book sale” – this can sometimes bring up results such as the estate sale of a collector.
  • Local Events Facebook Groups – on Facebook, type the name of city/state/county and words like “events” and “community” in the search box at the top of the page – this will likely help you find some groups to join!
  • Classified Websites: There are also many websites that have classified-type listings of book sales. Booksalefinder.com is one example, although the site is VERY confusing and difficult to navigate.

All of these can be great sources for finding fantastic deals on used books!


How I Shop Used Books Sales & What I Look for While I Shop

Once you’ve found a book sale happening near you, the next step is to be prepared! Some places will offer bags for your books, but don’t be surprised if you should bring your own bag!

I find that using heavy duty plastic and canvas tote bags are a good choice, as long as the handles are well reinforced! Books are HEAVY, so make sure that you never over stuff a bag to the point where you can’t carry it!

Even more fun? You can buy blank tote bags and paint them yourself with most multi-purpose or fabric acrylic craft paints! (Tie-Dye is a fun option as well!} See, it’s creative AND practical. Make it an event and invite friends to paint them and serve snacks and tasty beverages. All Good stuff!

Anyways, yes, I might be getting a little off track there…where was I? Back to the book sale shopping strategy. But seriously, a good tote bag is important. 🙂

Investing in a few good canvas tote bags if you don’t already have some is a great idea – I feel like a crazy lady with my love for tote bags, but I can seriously NEVER have enough of these!

I use them for grocery shopping, for transporting the kid’s things to and from places, for day trips, for camping, like seriously everything in my entire life now requires a tote bag, lol…


How And When to Shop Book Sales

Most book sales are a multi-day event, with the best selection with higher prices starting the first day. The second, and third days are usually when the prices start coming down, though the selection is not quite as robust as it is at the beginning.

The best bang for your efforts is when you find a sale that offers a bag sale. I usually will go the first day of the sale to see what types of things are being offered, buy anything I absolutely MUST have and fall in love with – then I will visit the last day of the sale to load up on anything of interest that might be left – usually quite a lot!

In my case this past weekend, I visited one book sale the day before the $5 bag sale. On this day, I purchased a few books at this time for $1-$2/each – a couple of antique books from the 1800’s, a large beautiful book of quotations, and a handful of books my kids wanted.

Oh, and a box of rocks. Yes, really! Apparently rock painting is a very big thing these days – I had no idea! So now the kids and I will have something fun to do this upcoming weekend – and this is just one example of how you never know what you might find at a used book sale!

I was fortunate enough to have some free time to revisit the first library AND visit a second nearby library the following day during the $5 bag sale event.

I scored some great books to use for mixed media art, collage, and so much more during the bag sale, so I wanted to of course share my finds – hopefully it will give you some ideas and inspiration by seeing what types of things I choose and why I choose them!


What Types of Used Books Are Best for Mixed Media Art & Creative Inspiration?

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a bad book at a book sale, but it never hurts to know what you are looking for and what will be the most useful for your needs!

Most book sales will have the books categorized by topic. For example, all of the gardening books are on one table, all the craft books on another, the poetry books have their own section, the self-help books, the kids books, the spiritual and inspiration books, the finance and business books, the reference books, the romance novels, the fiction books, and oh yes, the cookbooks.

To help you sort of navigate through the massive sea of tables of books available at a book sale, I thought I would share my top 5 tips for finding books I can use for my creative projects.

Tip #1: Explore Books You Normally Might Not Read!

When I shop at the bag sale and my goal is to find books I will enjoy for art & inspiration, I don’t limit myself to just topics I am personally interested in. While I knew most books on finance and business were likely very outdated {ie: written before the internet existed!} – I still perused the section to see if I might find inspiration.

I’m not much of a cookbook type of person either, but I still looked through the cookbook sections and found many nice books that would work for altered art projects.

For example, this Campbell’s Soup book, very appropriately titled “Cooking With Soup”.

I almost passed it up, but decided I really rather liked the illustrations inside AND the vintage metal spiral hardback binding. Not sure what I’m doing with it just yet, but I have a feeling there may be a cooking themed junk journal waiting to be made!

{Because there are so many good art journal theme ideas I swear I will get around to eventually!}


Tip #2: Look at the Book Construction For Interesting Shapes, Sizes and Features

Interesting shapes, styles and binding of the actual book construction itself is another thing I look out for at these bulk lot types of used book sales. You can find many different shapes, sizes and styles. Reaching out into sections you may not normally read can help you find these gems.

For example, these two garden binders shown above are very interesting and unique! Some of the pages are ripping, but I see them as a great thing to reuse for making custom junk journals and planners just with the binders alone.

I also found this garden book shown below which is unique in it’s shape and size – it is very tall and narrow, so could make for a great altered book project!

The garden images are a plus also! The past 2 years I have really taken a fondness for gardening {and I also have a gardening website in addition to this one!} – So, yes, creating a garden planning binder might just be in my future!


Tip #3: Look for Books of Poetry & Interesting Quotes

One of my favorite things to add to my art journaling pages are quotes, words, phrases and sayings. Poetry and quote books are perfect for this!

I of course had to pick up several poetry books – the sonnets of William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, and a couple of poetry magazines – that’s just a few!

I also got a couple of books that are specifically filled with quotes. These are usually little mini novelty books that are popular as gifts and contain uplifting quotes and wonderful typography for cutting out individual words.


Tip #4: Look for Old Books in the Public Domain to Photograph and Scan

Any book which was created or published before 1923 is considered to be in the public domain in the U.S. – which means the copyright has expired and you are free to use he material in any way you would like. {Yes, even for commercial and artwork you sell purposes!}

I wasn’t expecting to find any old antique books at the book sale, but I was actually quite surprised!

old books for altering

Most of these books are NOT in very good condition, which of course I’m sure contributes to why I was able to load up on many of them during the last day $5 bag sale.

However, I did make sure to check them all out on AbeBooks to see if any might be of a collector’s interest. With very old books like these, I typically do not cut these up – instead I will photograph and scan them to digitally preserve the images and text.

After I scan the book pages, covers, and images, I will then take a little bit of time to clean up the scanned images in Photoshop – but it is so worth it because now I have a never-ending supply of unique antique text and images to use in my junk journals and art journaling pages – just print on demand as desired!

And yes, I plan to hopefully get these scanned & available to download soon so others will be able to enjoy using the images and text of these hard to find books also!

Tip #5: Find Things That Inspire You To Create and Spark Action!

I find inspiration everywhere – but books especially can get the idea wheels spinning. I never know exactly what will inspire me, as I think it partly depends on what kind of mood I’m in – but I always find when the inspiration finds me, I have an insatiable desire to start creating.

So, yes, books are very good for inspiring and motivating you to get to work! If you’re a creative procrastinator or find yourself always pushing creative time to the bottom of the priorities and to-do lists, you might just find the right book can spark you into action!

For example, I found this back issue of the Somerset Home Magazine:

somerset home magazine

I have always been a fan of Somerset magazines – they produce so many great high quality magazines on a number of topics {including art journaling!} – so finding a good deal on one is always a real treasure.

Just looking through any of their magazines will have you wanting to create pretty much immediately!

Other books I found that inspired me to get into action include a book about organization and budgeting – this definitely helps motivate me to keep working on my goals to get better with organizing both the house and the finances.

Being a creative-brain type of person makes it a challenge and means these two things are always a work in progress!

Yes, Book Sales Are Awesome for Inspiration & Art Supplies!

While I don’t always track down the latest book sales and fill up bags and totes with a copious amount of books, I will say sometimes it’s the perfect way to find some inspiration and break out of a creative rut!

Book sales can be a great way to not only support local libraries and other community organizations, but they can give you a lot of ideas, inspiration, and yes – even images and text to use for mixed media art supplies and art journaling!

Many of the books at a used book sale are headed to paper recycling facilities after the sale, so I don’t feel bad about cutting up & using most books in my art – and if it is a book I don’t want to cut up, I simply don’t! {Like the Somerset Magazines – way too much fun to read to cut up, even if there are so many great things inside! Seriously my favorite creative magazines ever!}

I hope by sharing my used book sale shopping tips and some of the books I chose will inspire you to get creating!

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you like to shop at used book sales? What kind of books do you usually look for or find yourself gravitating towards? What’s the best book you ever found at a used book sale?

Have any tips for how to shop at a used book sale to find the best deals? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

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11 thoughts on “How I Shop Used Book Sales for Mixed Media Art Supplies, Inspiration & More”

  1. How kind of you to share all these ideas. Flea markets are another good source. Only want to add I always smell books to make sure no mildew or mold as it will infect your whole library.
    Elissa Hughes

    Reply
  2. I’m just getting into Junk Journals and love this post. I have some spiral bound recipe cards that I’m thinking of turning into a junk journal. It’s the 4” X 6” size. They were $1. each so not too expensive. I also have a book binder so that should work on other things. And I do know how to do book binding. I made bound journals one year for Christmas.

    Reply
  3. I have saved many books that were my mothers and grandmothers. They shared books and wrote their name and date in them. Since I am 72 yrs I have a range of published date.
    I always wanted to do something with them to preserve them for our family’s.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and tips..,,,…

    Reply
  4. Don’t forget garage/yard sales. In big cities, especially, where there are a lot of renters, people move more often, so there are lots of these. Prices are excellent there, and usually negotiable. Kids’ books have fun pictures. And when someone passes away in your family, he/she may have old books, which of course you would get for free. Many people of the older generations never threw anything away. My grandmother was an immigrant, raised in the country, and kept lots of stuff that she hadn’t used in decades. Among her things were some old paperback books…in a foreign language! The pages were yellowed and of course easy to tear out. For some reason it seems cooler if the book pages in your project are in a foreign language. I’ve used them in paper crafting; I make cards, but they would be good for scrapbooking or decoupage also. And one paperback supplies lots of pages. Warning: if the paper is too old, it is fragile, but a little tear or two doesn’t hurt; it actually adds to the look. I tore pages so that I had a block of text (margins eliminated), not the whole line; I didn’t want people to get distracted by trying to read the text, in case they knew the language. If your pages aren’t yellow enough, you could tea-dye or coffee-dye them.

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  5. Hiii !! Thanks for this lovely blog. I am an architect and wanted to creat a junk journal . I have magazines having amazing facts on all the topics like architecture, birds, beetles etc. So I wanted to turn these magazines into an interesting and amazing factual junk journal . As these inspire me most to know what is happening around the world.
    And I have chosen the binding method – binding using clips

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