Five tips for finding a good use for old tech manuals

If you're trying to decide what to do with that mountain of outdated tech manuals and guides, you have a number of viable options (none of which will require a backhoe or a bonfire). Derek Schauland looks at a few solutions he's been considering.

Recently, while doing some much needed spring cleaning at my office, I found some technical manuals and study guides that were great... back in the day when they were nearer to being new. As I leafed through some of these older books and papers, I got to thinking: What might be the best next destination for these items? I decided to share my thoughts and get some additional ideas from readers.

Note: I am including the simple "pitch it and move on" approach, but I realize that for some (myself included), that isn't always easy.

1: Recycle/toss

One option is to just throw them out or recycle them. Sure, this gets them out of the way. But doing this makes them of no use to anyone else. Maybe someone in an environment using some of these technologies needs a refresher on one particular feature. Considering all options before actually ditching material seems like the best idea.

2: Sell them for cash

This works well for gold or iPads or things people are clamoring to get. Even some books and reference materials will sell well if the technology is new and it covers a hot product. The last time I decided I should part with some technology books, which was a few years back (if that tells you anything about my love of both books and technology), I took about 15 books to a local secondhand bookstore. I knew I wouldn't get the list price for the books, but figured 15 to 20% of the price was reasonable to expect because the books were in good condition and would likely make the store a bit of money. I left with no books and enough cash to visit the local Starbucks for a pick-me-up. I am not sure that the secondhand bookstore is the way I will go in the future.

3: Give them to colleagues

Do you have a colleague studying a certain technology or a friend or family member who is trying to learn about some of the technology in these materials? If so, consider passing these resources along. Any time you can play a part in helping others advance their knowledge, it is worth doing. You might also consider sharing the materials with someone you work with or someone you know through local user groups. Remember, we all started somewhere.

4: Donate them to charity

Donating used items to charity is a good thing. Those manuals may end up in the hands of someone looking to learn about a technology who doesn't want to shell out the $49.95 list price to do so. Not only that, if you are one of those technologists who makes margin notes, the recipient of the item may benefit from your previous experiences. In addition, a donation to charity may net you a tax benefit. It will likely be small, but every little bit helps.

5: Store them for posterity... or for the grandkids

You may remember that piece of technology you just couldn't live without (think Atari 2600 or Nintendo Entertainment System). There were strategy guides and every other kind of game play reference for these machines. If you have access to the tech as well as the guides and manuals that go with it, you might consider storing it to pass along to your kids or grandkids. My first computer was my parents' Commodore 64, which went to another family member before I was a sophomore in high school. I am still curious where the old rig is -- and with it, the software and a manual for one of my favorite games, JumpMan. I'm even more curious now that I have been thinking about ways to recycle old items. Perhaps I will see if I can chase it (or one like it) down.

Some candidates for consideration in the keep pile might be:

  • Early (think Windows 95 and older) Resource Kits
  • The study guide for your first industry certification (or the one that got away, which you never got back to)
  • The classroom manual for your favorite college programming class -- for me this was a VB 6 book from Wrox press.

Other strategies?

What do you do with older technology reference materials? Are there any legacy items you just can't bear to part with? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the discussion.