Book Donations

"Providing Books To Anyone Who Wants To Read And Learn"

What is The Bookman?

The Bookman is a global charitable organization based in San Diego, California. A registered 501(c)3 charity, The Bookman supplies books free to teachers, institutions, and groups that ask, providing they can pick them up, or have another agency do that for them. However, The Bookman is not a bookstore and does not provide books to individuals or sell to the general public.

Operated with all volunteer labor, the organization now gives away almost one million new and used books per year, primarily to groups and agencies serving the underprivileged, to teachers, to our military veterans, families, and active-duty troops, and to other charitable groups. Since its creation in 1990, The Bookman has given away more than 8 million books to people in San Diego County and through local charities, to every state and 70 other countries. There are no restrictions on who can obtain free books - those who need them can have them, as long as they are part of a deserving group and, as long as they can arrange to pick them up from the warehouse. The Bookman does not select, pack, or ship books.

The Bookman operates out of 5,000 square feet of warehouse space at the corner of 37th St. and El Cajon Blvd. in San Diego. Donated by the building owner, the late Jack Grace, the floor contains an estimated 150,000 volumes, with a daily turnover of 2-3,000 books. Row after row of shelves neatly filled with books of every description. Encyclopedia sets, classic literature, self-help, biography, fiction, non-fiction, and reference books. You name it and its there. More than one third of the usable space is devoted entirely to children's books.

...he has given away - FREE - an estimated 8 million books around the world...”

How did this happen?

How did it come about? Irwin Herman, a San Carlos resident, retired from his appliance repair business in Chicago In 1988 and moved to San Diego with his wife, Shirley. In 1990 apparently at loose ends, he went along one day with a friend who did outreach at the local jails. At that time he learned the prisoners needed reading material so he provided some books and was amazed at how grateful the recipients were. Thus began "Irwin the Bookman."

Irwin Herman, the original "Bookman"

Irwin began going around to yard sales buying books and accepting book donations that he was offered, and started accumulating an inventory. First, he filled up his own garage and then cajoled neighbors into letting him use some of their garage space. He worked out of garages for six years, expanding his book giving from jails to schools to homeless shelters. In 1998 he was offered the current warehouse space by the late Jack Grace who until then had been offering Irwin space in several garages he owned. As for the prisoners, The Bookman now donates more than a quarter of a million paperback books each year to detention centers, jails, and prisons throughout Southern California.

The Bookman is a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation, so gifts are tax-deductible.”  

In April 1998, The Fabulous Five - John Carlson, Ron Blair, Bob Bradley, Lou Ferrero and Bill Lynch - each chipped in $5,000 to buy a van for Irwin. Carlson and Lynch pay for the gas. Blair and Ferraro are also members of The San Diego Nice Guys , another Bookman support group. An additional $5,000 came from a local San Diego women's group, Las Patronas. When the van was destroyed in an accident in early 2006, the Nice Guys and Las Patronas again came up with the money for a new one. In 2003/4, the international publishing firm of Reed-Elsevier donated $20,000 to purchase new bookshelves, allowing Irwin to increase storage space and improve productivity, and in 2004 a donation was received from the Simpson Family Donor Advised Fund at the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation. Although there are regular book donations from local groups, Irwin still spends donor money every month purchasing remainders from publishers and shopping at yard sales. None of the income goes for staff, only books, as the entire operation is run on donations and volunteer labor. Of course, all book donations are gratefully accepted, and are tax deductible. In addition to donations listed above, The Bookman is funded on an annual basis by generous financial donations from a number of generous individuals and groups, our donors, and is supported on a non-financial basis by several organizations such as uLine, JChoice, and WheatMark Book Publishers.

Book giveaway table at the 2011 Nice Guys Christmas Party at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego

Once a week The Bookman drops off 1-3,000 free used books at the bookstore at San Diego City College where passers-by eagerly pick them up, and another 150 books to the AlphaProject's Neil Good Center. We reach out to more than 350 groups and give away more than half a million Items every year to groups as disparate as San Diego Botanic Garden, the Nice Guys Christmas Party, Franklin Elementary School in San Diego to restock their new library after it was vandalized the weekend before opening, the Friends of the Temecula Library, New Haven School, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement juvenile detention facility in San Diego County. The Bookman is also the primary supplier of reading material to the incarcerated population of San Diego County. In addition, In 2005, The Bookman donated 30,000 books to Gulf Coast states to restock libraries destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. The Bookman also supports the Birthday Book Foundation, a group dedicated to building reading libraries in school classrooms, and Rolling Readers the group whose 300+ volunteers read to school children. We have also donated books to Books for Treats, a group dedicated to distributing books at Hallowe'en instead of candy, and to Pazzaz, a group that encourages reading in San Diego's disadvantaged communities. On the international front The Bookman has helped rebuild the library in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban, shipped nursing reference books to the Hue Medical School in Vietnam, donated more than 2,000 books to the American Intercon Institute, a K-12 English language school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, given 15,000 books to the Francis Papica Foundation for delivery to Paranaque, Philippines, 12,000 books to Nigeria, both directly and through the World Outreach Church and Rotary International, 35,000 books to Ghana, 5,000 to Sierra Leone, and smaller amounts to Nicaragua and Kenya, and in six donations more than 100,000 books to a variety of schools in the Philippines. Our current project is "A Million Books for Africa", a program dedicated to providing this quantity of books by the end of 2012. While The Bookman supplies these books, other agencies take responsibilty for packing and shipping.

Where do the books come from?

In addition to book donations from the general public all across America, bookstores, libraries, Rescue Mission, Polinsky Center for Children, and publishers such as Reed-Elsevier, Harcourt, Hachette Book Group, and More Magazine, The Bookman also buys material from yard sales, used bookstores, and publisher remainders. Two of the most generous bookstores are Adams Avenue Books and Bluestocking Books, both of San Diego. Almost one-quarter of the annual turnover consists of purchased material. Possibly as amazing as the amount of material received and donated is the fact that all the work of sorting and shelving is accomplished by three unpaid people: Irwin, Don Schulz, a retired bookstore owner, and Tony Ross, a retired publishing executive, all of whom come in 2-4 days a week.  

To see a YouTube video on The Bookman, click here.

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Last updated January 29, 2013