I've been selling books for over 14 years and in that time I've catalogued many thousands of books but never once have I had the urge to stick a label on one. If professional booksellers can manage their pricing and stock taking without sticking these annoying little things everywhere why can't charity shops?
The BBC had a piece on the website this week about M&S switching to lazering labels onto fruit to cut their carbon footprint. Apparently 7 tonnes of waste alone is generated from M&S labelling just their oranges. How much waste must these stickers on books produce? It is not just the enviromental consequences of the label but the manufacture of the paper, label and ink (the better class of charity shop have labels printed with their logo) and the shipping of the same for manufacture and then the shipping of the finished product. And then the removal...
Labels on oranges don't hurt them, they peel off easily and you can throw them away with the skin. Labels on books damage them. Lots of charity shops show no discrimination on whether they put them on modern paperbacks or antiquarian volumes. This copy of Dickens' Dream Children which has a lovely paper paste-down had a blue price label plastered down hard onto it when it found its way to me. It took hours of soaking solvent through the label to ease the thing off without damaging the fragile front of the book. And this adds to the enviromental cost.
Today I have been removing labels from paperbacks. Some have more than one label as they had been bought and re-donated to several charity shops. There are costs to the removal: financial, environmental and slightly to my health (book glue solvent if not pleasant to use).
Worst of all is when you ease the label finally clear and discover the charity shop worker had priced the book AFTER putting the label on, imprinting the price and date forever on the book below.
So, you may say, it is a free country, don't go and buy books from charity shops. Well most of the charity shop label removal I do is on books purchased as part of private collections from post-graduate students or academics. They've bought from charity shops and I get the label problem passed on to me. Or they've tried to remove them, failed and left either a sticky mess or the surface torn off the book.
Charity shops do a good job of recycling books. I donate books to charity shops too. But this label habit they're wedded to really should be coming to an end. If you're buying in a charity shop why not politely point out the wider costs of these labels? A pencil, wielded lightly on a prelim, is all most professional sellers use. There is no need for anything else.
How to remove labels
Please read to the end before starting, and remember it doesn't always work. Do not attempt it on a book that is important to you. I accept no responsibility for you trying this!
I. For modern paperbacks or for laminated dust jackets you need to warm the glue. A hairdryer used sensibly is your best friend here. Hold the hot air over the label for a couple of minutes (not too close, and don't dangle your hair in the vent as you lean over!) and then try a corner. If it comes away fairly easily keep going. If not reheat and try again. Removes 90% of labels without damaging the surface but might leave some sticky residue.
2. Sticky residue: use a *sticky stuff remover according to the safety instructions. This stuff is a bit nasty and I would avoid if you have lung or skin problems. I always do this by an open window. Stuborn labels can be soaked with this from a cotton bud if the hair dryer hasn't worked.
Don't heat a book that has glued-on decoration, like a paste-down - you don't want that loosened. The soaking method can work here if you're sure the decoration is colour fast, and if you're careful.
Do make sure any surface you use solvent on is colourfast. Laminated surafces should be fine. Be extra careful with matt surfaces or older books. Some solvents can leave an oily mark on matt surfaces too.
*Lakeland, Viking, Betterware and lots of other places sell different brands of stick stuff remover. Try your chosen one on something unimportant first.