“A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on, you are enriched threefold.”

– Henry Miller, The Books in My Life (1969)


If you enter the NYU Shanghai Library these days, chances are you will see a fully occupied academic commons. Students are busy with their midterms and the library is always the place to go if anyone is interested in finding a good spot for study. Beside the fierce competition for space, another surge we see is the checkout rate for course reserve items – mostly textbooks. This may not be the case for other academic libraries, but as a transnational university in China, NYU Shanghai is faced with a bigger challenge in getting physical textbooks for students from abroad. In the US, students can easily buy textbooks from bookstores; while at NYU Shanghai, it’s always a much more complex process to get hold of a physical textbook as a large portion of our textbooks need to be purchased and shipped from the US, which is costly, time-consuming and also full of uncertainties. To make it easier for students and faculty, e-books have always been the first option for textbooks. However, it seems that many students still prefer a physical book when studying for exams. Students do purchase physical copies if needed, but for those who don’t, the library copy of these textbooks naturally becomes a precious shared asset. For some popular titles, they even need to be waitlisted until they can check them out for 4 hours. According to Ran, Yang and Jin, the acquisition and distribution of imported English language textbooks is a common issue for the several Chinese transnational universities now (2020).

As NYU Shanghai has 49% of international students, most of them won’t consider taking the physical textbooks with them when going back to their own countries, so they will need to find a new owner for these books. This is not always easy when you don’t have a system or platform to help facilitate that process. Therefore, students can only place their books in the common study areas (including the library), hoping these books will be “adopted” by someone in need. All too often, these books become “drifters” on campus as no one knows who they belong to and students are very reluctant to take them away, assuming they are someone else’ property. On the one hand, physical textbooks are so difficult to obtain and students are in great need of them; on the other hand, they are longing for a platform which can help facilitate the reuse and exchange of those copies when semester ends.

Unattended Books in the NYU Shanghai Library Academic Commons

The existing challenges have all come across as opportunities for improvement after I studied the Participatory Service module. In his book The Heart of Librarianship, Michael Stephens states that “the era of participatory culture demands that cultural and information professionals play an active, visible role in our communities” (2016), which really motivated me when I start thinking about making library services more visible and accessible to the NYU Shanghai community by coming up with more user-oriented initiatives. As Michael Casey puts it, “the participatory library engages and queries its entire community and seeks to integrate them into the structure of change” (2011). My plan of No More “Drifters” is one that needs participation and input from all students, whether they are donating books or offering suggestions to tackle the problem. If the plan can be implemented for the entire NYU Shanghai community, I hope it will serve as a way to encourage sharing, exchanging, and reusing personal books among community members and make the best use of resources readily available.

Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service

  • Facilitate the exchange or re-distribution of personal physical textbooks among the NYU Shanghai student body;
  • Encourage the exchange and reuse of personal books that are no longer needed and provide a platform for the entire community to donate or swap books to those in need;
  • Address the problem of unattended books – the “drifters” – on campus and make the best use of resources that are readily available;
  • Encourage reading activities at a lower cost both financially and environmentally in the NYU Shanghai community;
  • Involve users in shaping library services and make library services more visible and accessible to the community.

Description of Community you wish to engage

At the first stage of this plan, I’m looking to engage the NYU Shanghai students only as they will be the main user group who need this service. For the second stage, we will expand it to the entire NYU Shanghai community, including students, faculty and staff, to facilitate personal book donation or exchange. The NYU Shanghai Library will be responsible for implementing this plan and organizing related events. 

Action Brief Statement

For Library Users

Convince library users that by donating dispensable personal books to the library they will be helping to build a platform which will reduce the cost of reading activities both financially and environmentally because it will facilitate the process of book exchange and enable the reuse of resources readily available to the NYU Shanghai community. 

For Library Staff

Convince library staff that by implementing this service they will be able to involve users in shaping library services which will help improve user experience and make library services more visible and accessible to the NYU Shanghai community because it is user-oriented and can create more opportunities for outreach.

Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service


Bikos, G., & Papadimitriou, P. (2015). Book swapping and book exchange libraries: aspects of the phenomenon and the case of Greece. AIP Conference Proceedings, 1644(1), 295-302.  https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4907850

Chavan, H. (2019, May 3). Re-inventing book exchange to create new social network for readers – why Readsnet happened. Medium. https://medium.com/@harshalachavan7/re-inventing-book-exchange-to-create-new-social-network-for-readers-why-readsnet-happened-f5969c4245a4

Diaz, C. (2017). Affordable course materials: Electronic textbooks and open educational resources. American Library Association.

Lapointe, M. (2019, September 19). Book exchange and literacy. Princh. https://princh.com/book-exchanges-and-literacy/#.X5kQ_dAzZPY

Sarkisian, H. (2017). GSU library student textbook exchange. Governor State University Library. https://opus.govst.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1045&context=library_411


Sarkisian, H. (2017). GSU library student textbook exchange. Governor State University Library. https://opus.govst.edu/library_411/46

Maxfield Public Library. (2019, Feb 9). http://maxfieldlibrary.com/print_entry.asp?counter=137

Streets of Woodfield Community Book Swap. (2019, Aug 10). https://www.scarce.org/event/streets-of-woodfield-community-book-swap/

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service

As described in the NYU Shanghai Library Mission Statement, the library “seek[s] and provide[s] intellectual resources and foster[s] platforms for scholarly exchanges” (n.d.). To build this platform and facilitate book exchange, NYU Shanghai Library, mainly the Library Director and the Access Services team will be responsible for setting policies about donation, exchange and other participation issues. As students will be our main user group, we will also involve student representatives in policy-making. We will use the current library donation policy as a starting point and then study similar events for reference. As we may be utilizing unattended books in public spaces on campus, we will also consult with Student Life, Public Safety and Asset Management for advice and permissions. What’s more, given the current circumstances, we will also have to follow the University’s policy on COVID-19 management.

Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service

No additional funding is needed for books as they will be donated by community members or collected from public spaces where unattended books are usually placed at. However, the library will need to invest in purchasing gifts for those who actively participate in this event. We will also need a budget for preparing promotional materials and instructional signs for the event.

Action Steps & Timeline

For the first stage of this plan, actions and timeline will largely depend on the availability of dispensable textbooks. For the second phase, however, as we will be accepting book donations of all sorts from the entire community, it won’t be as time-sensitive as the first stage.

Phase I

Target Books: Physical Textbooks

Target Users: NYU Shanghai Students

  1. Library start promoting the No More “Drifters” project;
    • As Spring semesters usually ends in late May, so promotion starts at the beginning of May; Fall semesters ends in late December, so promotion starts at the beginning of December.
  2. Library start accepting donations of physical textbooks after the promotion kicks off;
    • Library staff will be trained beforehand to evaluate donated textbooks (conditions, personal information, etc.), inform users of our policies and accept the ones that are qualified to enter this service.
  3. Library stop accepting donations at the end of summer/winter holidays;
    • Most students move out at the end of each semester, but there will be a few who stay for summer/winter term. Therefore, it’s important to take those students into consideration.
  4. Library screen the donated books, categorize them and make signs/labels for the event before new semester begins; 
    • A storage space must be dedicated to these books and kept secure.
  5. Library start promoting the event at the beginning of the new semester and encourage students to join this event if they are in need of a physical textbook; 
  6. Library staff will pick two sessions (two hours each) during the first two weeks for book distribution and exchange;
    • The first two weeks of the semester is the add-and-drop period for students to decide what classes to take, so it may be the time they need a free textbook the most.
    • If students decide to drop a certain class and don’t need the textbook anymore, they should feel free to give it back to the library, if the book is still in good shape.
  7. After the add-and-drop period, library will hold an additional session during the third week in case there are students who still need to check out the remaining textbooks;
    • Only student workers will be assisting in the organizing and facilitating of this session.
  8. For the remaining books after the aforementioned three sessions, NYU Shanghai Library reserves the right to determine their use or disposition.
    • Remaining books will be evaluated again, and library staff will decide if we will discard them or keep them for future exchange.

Phase II

Target Books: All sorts of books that meet the requirements of library’s donation policy

Target users: All NYU Shanghai members

Phase II will start if Phase I passes evaluation and receives positive feedback from students. The timeline will be the same as the first Phase I, except that the library will be accepting donations during the whole semester from community members. Besides, the marketing strategy and timeline will be updated accordingly.

  1. Library start promoting the No More “Drifters” project to the entire community after Phase I ends;
  2. Library start accepting donations of books after the promotion kicks off;
  3. Library screen the donated books, categorize them and make signs/labels for the event before new semester begins; 
  4. Library start promoting the event at the beginning of the new semester and encourage all members join this event if they are interested in exchanging books or just getting a new reading from the event; 
  5. Library staff will pick two sessions (two hours each) during the first two weeks for book distribution and exchange;
    • Books donated during these two weeks will enter events for the next semester.
  6. After the add-and-drop period, library will hold an additional session during the third week in case there are students who still need to check out the remaining textbooks;
    • This session is for textbooks only.
  7. For the remaining books after the aforementioned three sessions, NYU Shanghai Library reserves the right to determine their use or disposition.

Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service

ALthough this is a new service to offer and it will require each team to devote a certain amount of time to prepare for the events, this project won’t require additional hours from library staff. Firstly, the taskforce for this project will work in collaboration with other departments on getting permissions and university level guidelines, and then we will work with the library director on policy-making. Secondly, the library marketing team will help with designing and creating promotional materials and purchasing gifts. Thirdly, the taskforce will be responsible for training other support staff and student workers on the policies and workflow of the project. This is especially important for Access Services staff because they will be accepting donations and conducting the first round of evaluations. During the three event sessions, only two to three staff members are needed and we will assign student workers to staff and coordinate the event most of the time. Lastly, the whole library team and other stakeholders will help evaluate the project and provide feedback. 

Training for this Technology or Service

The Library Access Services team members and student workers will complete training before the promotion of the project. Training will be designed by the project taskforce and will cover areas including donation policy, evaluating for qualified books, project action steps and timelines, workflow for each event session, receiving feedback from users, etc. Trainers will also create a manual for distribution. 

Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service

To market for this project, both traditional and new marketing channels will be utilized. To prepare for the promotion, the library marketing team will create posters and distribute them around campus. If time permits, we will also consider making a promotional video and broadcast it on social media and library digital screens. Based on our past experiences, sending emails to target users is the most efficient way to get the word out although it seems old-fashioned. Instead of using Facebook or Instagram, which are not as popular as they are abroad, we will create WeChat posts and share with the community on the NYU Shanghai Library official account. The Access Services team will also promote our events at the circulation desk in our daily interactions with users. Additionally, library staff will make use of our individual networks and reach out to colleagues from other departments and invite them to participate. We will also ask our student workers to help spread the word among their fellow students.



  • How many books are received from users?
  • How many of the received books meet the requirements?

Match Rate

  • How many of the accepted books find their new owners?
  • How many books are left unpicked after the events?


  • How many people donate books to the library?
  • How many people participate in the events?
  • How many people find the book(s) they need from the events?
  • How many users come to the library to ask about this service after the events end?


  • Are people still leaving their dispensable books unattended in public spaces after the events?
  • Is it natural for people to associate book reuse and book exchange to library service?

As the metrics for evaluation should consider qualitative and quantitative factors, it is best to keep statistics and record during the whole process. A short survey can be distributed to participants during or after the event to solicit feedback. The task force of this project should organize a meeting among library staff to gather feedback and firsthand experience for the improvement of future events. The ultimate goal is to facilitate book reuse and exchange, make library service a participatory experience for users, and to make library services more visible and accessible for the NYU Shanghai community.


Casey, M. (2011, October 21). Revisiting participatory service in trying times – a TTW guest post by Michael Casey. Tame the Web. https://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/

Miller, H. (1969). The books in my life. New Directions.

NYU Shanghai Library. (n.d.). About the library. https://shanghai.nyu.edu/academics/library/about

Ran, C., Yang, L., & Jin, Q. (2020). The challenges of textbook access at Chinese transnational universities. Libraries and the Academy, 20(4), 585-596. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/766322/pdf

Stephens, M. (2012). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. American Library Association.

8 Comments on Participatory Service Planning: No More “Drifters”

  1. This is a simple yet brilliant idea! I love the plan to redirect/repurpose something that is already happening, turning it from passive and undirected to something active and valuable that can strengthen the community on campus. Without even using a survey, you’re already listening to users and what they want by examining their behavior. Great idea and thank you for sharing it!

    • Thank you Ariel! In my humble opinion, to “redirect/repurpose something that is already happening” is also to solve problems in a creative way. Instead of chasing after problems, sometimes it’s easier to solve them by observing and making use of the problem itself. I believe we can all find room for improvement in our daily work, and these areas can be our opportunity to create something new!

  2. Hi Ye,

    What a great idea! I had never realized how difficult it could be to get university textbooks in China, and love how you’ve come up with a simple and efficient plan to increase access to these materials for students at NYU Shanghai. Are you planning on proposing this to the library? I hope the library is able to implement your plan!


    • Thank you Sarah! I guess we all face different challenges in our own institutions, and I hope this plan can help make students’ life a bit easier. Yes I proposed my plan to our director and my manager and they are very supportive. I’m looking forward to working out the details and implementing it soon!

  3. Hi Ye,

    I love this idea! I had no idea how difficult it is to aquire textbooks in China. In the US, Facebook is typically the go-to platform for selling textbooks, and often, multiple students will compete with one another to buy the textbook off of the owner. The library at NYU Shanghai lending program seems like the perfect alternative to an online-platform as there a large number of textbooks laying around. I hope you propose this idea to the library!


    • Thank you Ciera! I think it would be great to have an online platform to help students facilitate the selling of their used textbooks. I believe some students have their way to sell books to those in need. For the library, we can definitely start with the unattended books and see if we can go further from there!

  4. I love this idea! It seems that you have actively noticed a need in your community and have devised a great plan to address it. I think this plan will definitely help students and find homes for the “drifters”. Great plan, Ye!

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