Saturday, April 3, 2021

Donation psychology


It has long been a source of curiosity for me at the library that the quality of donations we receive is inverse to the amount of appreciation and credit the donor seeks. The person who thinks he is bestowing some kind of lordly bequest, is god's gift to the library, and wants a detailed receipt is invariably donating musty religious books from the 1970's. Whereas the person who sheepishly wonders if we can use his mint, complete, hardbound in calfskin collection of Rex Stout is embarrassed if you try to thank him because it is we who should be thanked.

For a long time during the pandemic we accepted no donations except the illegal ones patrons snuck in through the returns. But not too long ago we started accepting donations here again, and we're using a system I really enjoy. We have two large canvas bins on wheels off to the side of the main entrance. If someone wants to donate they can dump their items in there. If they want a receipt they can fill one out for themselves. I enjoy the low interaction, do-it-yourself quality of the system. But it also serves to further underline the curious counter-intuitive psychological quality of donations.

I would think that with these anonymous dump bins the sky is open for donations of moldy textbooks, reader's digest condensed books, outdated pop psychology, and exhaustive collections of National Geographic Magazine. But people donating those items find them too precious to let go of without being profusely thanked (even if normally they'll be politely refused). If I walk over to those canvas bins right now I will instead find things of a better quality than our actual collection; the complete Ken Burns Civil War in excellent condition, beautiful photo books of the Planet Earth, some modern literature of note in good quality paperbacks. It's nice stuff.

And so ultimately what is the lesson of all this?

On the surface people are surprisingly awful.

But secretly they're wonderful.


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