While many students are finishing their book-buying for the fall, the United Way and Yale are hoping they will also do some book-donating this week.

The Yale-United Way Days of Caring Book Drive, which will run through Friday, is collecting new or “gently used” children’s books, as part of an effort by the United Way, Yale and New Haven Reads to improve literacy in the city. Marked cardboard bins for donated books have been set up in all Yale libraries and residential colleges, as well as the McDougal Center in the Hall of Graduate Studies, Commons, University Health Services, the Learning Center and the Yale Bookstore. The books will be distributed to New Haven classrooms, homeless shelters and day care centers, said Yale College Associate Dean Judith Hackman, this year’s drive chairwoman.

Giving area youngsters their own books is key to building reading skills, said Claudia Merson, one of the drive’s organizers who directs the public school partnership in Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs.

“We have had great statistics for the use of the public library, but getting children to own books is a very important concept,” Merson said.

Last year, the public libraries in New Haven sponsored a similar event, collecting and distributing 500 books. With the expansion of the project, there are hopes of collecting 1,000 to 2,000 books, Hackman said.

Hackman said the residential college that collects the most books will win a dessert with Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead.

But many Yale students said they did not come to campus with any children’s books to donate.

“When I packed for Yale, I only planned on bringing dictionaries and study tools that I would need for class,” Hao Wang ’07 said.

Because of this, the Yale Bookstore is offering a 20 percent discount on children’s books for the drive, said Neil LeBeau, General Manager of the Yale Bookstore.

The book drive is a part of the annual Day of Caring, a September event sponsored by the United Way of Greater New Haven, during which volunteers participate in service projects in the area.

In another project to improve literacy, New Haven Reads, a city initiative, runs a book bank on Park Street. The book bank serves as a central point for the collection and distribution of free new and gently used books.