Many Charlotte Mason educators consider their libraries part of the legacy they will leave their children and purchase the highest quality books they can afford. Our family homeschools on a shoestring. I have often bought the least expensive 'average' condition book, but it is worthwhile to get a high-quality hardcover if you find one at a good price.
Before shopping for used books, it is helpful to know the jargon. Thankfully, Abebooks has a glossary of used book terminology and abbreviations. Keep this page open and use the "find" function on your computer to locate any terms in a listing that you don't understand.
My first stop when looking for books is AddAll. This website searches the Internet for the lowest price. AddAll doesn't actually sell you books, but directs you to book sellers online. Here is a brief list of book selling websites I use:
Paperback Swap is an interesting concept. Users post books they are willing to trade and receive a credit for each book they mail to another user. The credits are used to choose books from other users. You can keep a wish list on the site, and they will notify you when books come available. Twice I have gotten rare, out-of-print AO books for the price of shipping. I have also exchanged much twaddle for living books. I currently have almost nothing I'm willing to swap, so I just buy credits when my wish list books come up. Credits are $3.79 apiece. Receiving credits for books mailed is generally less expensive, as the U.S. media mail rate for books under 1 lb is $2.47. Usually, one credit gets you one book. See the website for more information.
(I cannot recommend eBay because I do not like shopping that website. I get too wrapped up in the competitive aspect, which causes me to overbid. It is just better for me not to go there. :) Your experience may be different.)
I prefer to shop for books online because I can do specific searches and keep myself from getting sidetracked by other goodies that look wonderful but are not on my list. Shopping for books in real life is often hit-or-miss, which is dangerous for a bibliophile. When I leave the house to shop for books, I want to come home with books. If I enter a brick-and-mortar store with a specific book in mind, I will very likely emerge, not with the book I need, but with four or five others that look scrumptious. This is fine for a family with discretionary income, but for a family on a tight budget, it can seriously mess with next year's educational prospects.
Having said that, here are some real-life places I like to shop for books:
Homeschool book fairs (usually have a couple booths of used and out of print books)
Homeschool support group/co-op used book sales
Barnes and Noble (We view this store more as a museum we visit to remember what new books look like, but they have a nice collection of reasonably priced classics in hardcover. Some are abridged, so do your homework.)
As a homeschool buyer of many years, I can honestly say it is less expensive in the long run to purchase books on the purchasing list online, even at slightly higher prices (shipping, you know) than to purchase ten amazing books just discovered at a brick-and-mortar store or homeschool used book sale. The exception, of course, is if you find a thrift store or flea market practically giving books away for under a dollar. These places exist. One of the thrift stores near us sold books for 25 and 50 cents for years. If you find a store like this, shop every week until they come to their senses. ;o) Libraries sometimes literally give books away, too. Here are a few places to check for these free or almost-freebies:
Half-Price Books warehouse is another place to get free or almost-free books. These are clearing-houses for books that do not sell in the stores. Homeschool moms qualify as teachers at the warehouse in our area. If you are a teacher, you may attend their clearance events in which they give away books for free or almost-free. You have to sign an affadavit stating you will not attempt to resell the books. I got some of my best books at one of these events. But it can be a mad rush of people jostling for books, so beware. This is the reason I only went once! Also, bring boxes and a hand truck and prepare to stay to the bitter end. People take entire shelves of books, sort through them, and put back what they do not want. Sometimes what they do not want are classic works of natural history and science. You can find great things if you are patient.
Borrowing books can also be an option if you know other CM homeschoolers in your area. Many CMers are protective of their books, and with good reason. (See "building a legacy for their children", above.) Borrowers do not always return books, and lenders do not always remember who has their loaned books. I have been on both ends of this trouble. I lost several lent books over the years, some of which I just realized were missing this year when I needed them for my youngest daughter's schooling. I had to repurchase them. But I am not innocent, oh no. Only last week I almost gave away a book I borrowed over three years ago!
With all its pitfalls, borrowing and lending can be a great way to share books if a few rules are followed:
1) If someone lends you a book, respect the honor conferred upon you and return it as soon as possible,
2) Only lend books you don't mind losing, and
3) Keep records of borrowing and lending so you do not forget.
The library can be a great borrowing resource, too. Our library expanded into a new building (and a new purchasing budget!) a few years ago and actually requested that patrons make book purchase suggestions. Homeschoolers took them up on this opportunity! Even if your library is not asking, you can request that they look for certain books when they have a purchasing budget. The worst they can do is say no. We live in a large metro area and have cards to three different library systems. If one library doesn't have what we need, another may. Also, many people use inter-library loan, and, while I haven't ever used it, I have heard that it is a good way to borrow rare books. The drawback to using the library is that the books must be read more quickly than is usual in a CM education.
Purchasing books for Kindle and other eReaders is a new trend in CM homeschooling. It is affordable and convenient. You do not have to own a Kindle to use a Kindle book. You can download them onto your PC. Also, quite a few classic books are available to download for free on the Internet. Some of these books are indicated with hyperlinks on the Ambleside Online website. At our house, we use a lot of free-on-the-Internet books for the cost-savings, but we prefer paper pages and hard covers and purchase as many hard copies as we can afford. We have a running joke that when the electrical grid goes down, we want to be like the monks of the Dark Ages, preserving beauty and knowledge with our paper books... not that we think the grid will go down any time soon. ;o) Doom and gloom aside, here is a sampling of links for downloadable ebooks:
Ambleside Online (online books indicate with hyperlinks which lead to other websites)
Amazon (do a search for "free kindle books")
These are a few strategies I use to find books for my kids' education. What book-finding tips would you offer a lately-come-to-CM mom?