When Considering Former Library Books
A former library book or "ex-library", as they are most often called, is a book that, as the name indicates, has been removed from a public library collection (not to be confused with ex libris means that it came from the private library of an individual).
An ex-library book for one reason or another (often due to some combination of: low circulation, age, or wear) are sometimes donated to other groups or sold to the general public for a small price that goes back into supporting the library and its programs.
Due to the fact that an ex-library book is not valued the same as one that has not been used in a library, all booksellers should ALWAYS disclose online whether or not a book is "ex-library" or a "former library book". This is especially true when it comes to books of merit that can be worth $100s or even $1000s more if they are not from a library collection.
Some unscrupulous bookselling individuals out there occasionally try to pass of a ex-library book as not circulated. The good news, of course, is that library markings (interior cards, stickers, and stamps) for the most part are nearly impossible to remove without a great amount of damage to the book.
However, these individuals can sometimes get around this by not including pictures of the book or using a stock image off the internet. In these cases sometimes the seller will defend their actions by saying they "didn't know", or just not respond to upset buyers.
If you are not dealing with a seller you trust, check the seller's history, reviews, and see how long they have been selling books. Also, ask for pictures of the actual book, if you suspect it is a stock photo or there is not a photo provided. If a seller is reluctant to provide them, or comes up with excuses as to not provide you with satisfactory pictures -- purchase elsewhere. There are thousands of booksellers online and as the old adage goes... if a deal seems too good to be true....it's probably not a first edition, first printing of the Wizard of Oz.
Advantages to Ex Library Books:
The great thing about an ex-library book is that, depending on the book, often an ex-library title can still be in great shape. Also, since their valuation is much less than the respective book that is not from a circulation library a patient and thrifty collector can pick up many notable first editions, etc. for a fraction of the price that they would have to pay otherwise.
There are collectors who have an extensive collection of great works made up of almost entirely ex-library books.
Also, an ex-library book, comes with it's own unique history-- like any used book does, but on a grander scale. Sure, to some an ex-library book may only be viewed in terms of wear, and that is okay... but to others, we think that same book can be viewed with a little sense of magic. Yes, that is a romanticized notion and if you know us you know we like romanticized notions, but imagine owning a book resplendently adorned with its own history of possibly opening someone's world to the darkness of Poe, the poems of Silverstein, or the wit of Austen? Kind of cool, isn't it?
If you think about it, there is probably someone out there, who unbeknownst to them, is the proud owner of an ex-library book that possibly first introduced many authors themselves to different worlds. Somebody may own a old ex-library book that introduced Stephen King to things that go bump in the night, J.K. Rowling to wizards, and E.B. White to pigs and swans. It's impossible to know for certain, but it is certainly fun to speculate.
That being said and ex-library book will rarely appreciate in value (though again there are exceptions if supply and demand are right). They can also have pretty significant wear. We always suggest that if you are ordering a ex-library book online for more than a few dollars (due to scarcity sometimes even a ex-library book can be worth a decent amount of money - though not often), make sure it's condition is thoroughly described through pictures and words. If you ever have questions about an ex-library title we offer please ask us. As always we are always happy to make sure you are getting the book you want in the condition you expect!