One Heck Of A Good Library Sale

- by Karen Wright


Volunteer Cathy Bradford.

We amassed about five Trader Joe's bags and two boxes over the next couple of hours. I got a couple of costume books, some good botany, architectural stuff, an old but good Joy of Cooking, quite a few Native American Indian and Western History books (our current specialty), and quite an eclectic mish-mash of other yummy stuff.

When we were sated (and out of money), I went to the back room to talk with John Burt, a ten-year veteran of the Friends organization. He said they had their first sales beginning in the 1970s in a single room at the main library. In the mid-1980s they moved to an old high school where they had seven rooms, and have been having sales every month since that time. When they moved to the Community Center they spread out to several large classrooms. Their sales went from about $8000 per month in the 1990s and now exceed $200,000 a year. They do have some books set aside to be sold through Amazon-online.

They have about 150 volunteers and John told me that they are presently revising their volunteer handbook. Volunteers are permitted to buy books between and during the sale for the price on the book, but they are restricted in how many books they may purchase in a section, they can't buy any books they have priced themselves, and many of the books must be offered for sale once to the public before the volunteers may purchase them, at the manager's discretion. They do not encourage professional booksellers to become volunteers - for obvious reasons. Too bad!

According to their FOPAL History Sheet, "The Friend's book sales receipts over the last twenty years have funded over a million dollars worth of gifts and grants to Palo Alto’s Libraries." It helps that they have one of the best universities in the west nearby and have all those studious students and profound professors from whom to glean donations.

As with most Friends organizations, the sales provide stock for booksellers from all over the area, they provide good books with good homes, and they thrill readers of all kinds with "the cultural and educational benefits of reading."

I asked John if the Main Library goes through all the donations before they go to the FOPAL sales. He said that the donations are not vetted by the library as they have so many that it would take forever. If they find a book they think the library might want or if a library staff person finds one they do want, then the book is immediately given to the library.