Treasure Trove Of Bargain Books Helps Support Library Programs

By: Tim Wood

Mysteries are the most popular genre at the Eldredge Library book sale. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Until about 15 years ago, the Friends of the Eldredge Library held an annual book sale, usually in July, on the front lawn of the historic Main Street building. Books would be stored all year long in the attic, recalls Library Director Irene Gillies. To get the books to the sale area, a “bucket brigade” of volunteers hefted heavy boxes from the third floor storage area and sent them down a slide to ground level.

“It was really an exhausting thing,” she recalled. During the rest of the year, a table displayed donated books for sale; in the early 2000s, it was decided it was easier to have an ongoing book sale, and the Friends bought shelves and set up a section of the basement meeting room, added during the library's renovation and expansion in the late 1990s, as something of a used book shop.

Now overseen by a Friends committee, the sale has expanded significantly, filling a section of the lower level meeting space and bringing in nearly $10,000 a year, Gillies said. The revenue goes into the Friends' coffers to help support many library programs and purchases.

“The money is well-used,” Gillies said. “And it's always been done by volunteers.”

With nothing costing more than $3, the sale is a treasure trove for book lovers and a bargain to boot. The shelves contain a wide variety of books, from recent best-sellers to reference books to books on CD and DVDs. Many are donated, while others are library books that are no longer needed for one reason or another. Donations come from a variety of sources, said Friends bookstore chair Paula Lofgren; residents culling their personal collections, summer folk clearing out things at the end of the season and estate liquidations. Books first go to Gillies, who checks to see if a volume could fill a gap within the library's collection, replace a worn book or missing book or augment popular books like best-sellers. She also sets aside any possible collectibles for later sale.

The books then go downstairs to the Friends storage room for committee members to organize.

“Part of the fun of it is that we get to go through all these books,” said Lofgren, a retired teacher. The books are sorted into categories and subjects and stored until space is available to add them to the sale. Each Tuesday morning before the library opens, the seven committee members restock the shelves; they keep an eye on things during the week as well, adding and reorganizing as needed.

Lofgren credits the committee members, whom she called “anonymous elves,” with keeping the sale going smoothly.

“It's all about the team,” she said.

By all accounts, the current group has brought a high level of organization to the sale, developing systems for handling the large inventory and keeping the sale fresh for repeat customers. Lofgren said there are book lovers who come every Tuesday because they know that's when new stock is put out, and some folks come from as far away as Mashpee to browse on a regular basis.

It's easy to see why. The room is packed with books, which is enough of an enticement for most book lovers. A table on the immediate left of the entry highlights a specific subject or season; on display now is a selection of holiday-related books. Shelves hold dozens of books on CD, fiction and nonfiction paperbacks and hardcovers, kids books and DVDs. And the prices are right: recent hardcovers, which usually sell for more than $20, are at the top of the line at $3 each. Other hardcovers are $2; former library books are $1.50, as are quality paperbacks; regular paperbacks, books on CD and DVDs are $1; music CDs are two for $1; and children's and young adult books are $1 per bag. Any book older than 15 years gets a yellow dot and is priced at 25 cents. This fall more than 1,000 books were cycled in and out of the sale.

What's the most popular genre? Hands down it's mysteries, said Lofgren. Nearly an entire wall of the book sale is covered with hardcover mysteries by such popular authors as Tom Clancy and Dean Koontz, and large spinner racks of paperback mysteries stand in the hallway just outside the book sale. Trade paperbacks are also popular, and the sale has a spinner rack of beach reads. There are sections for cookbooks, travel books, Cape Cod books, biography, a large print section and coffee table books.

Lofgren said she's been impressed with the quality of the books donated by residents. “People are reading with depth; it's not just airport books.” Books on topics like politics, history, art and the classics are regularly donated. Many are high quality; she recalled large, expensive volumes on the history of the Rolling Stones and Mercedes Benz cars coming in, and like other top quality books, they were priced at $3. Someone got a great bargain.

The committee members look at each book to make sure it's in good condition; the library website has guidelines. Donated books that aren't suitable for the sale – or books with marginal interest – are placed on “free” stands elsewhere in the library.

Each book purchased helps the Friends buy computers and other equipment for the library, support children's programs and, in a trial in the coming year, some adult programming, Gillies said.

To help promote the book sale, the committee recently has been placing rotating posters at the front desk and advertising on a sign at the library's front entrance. The holiday season is the perfect time to check out the sale, Lofgren said. The lightly-used books make great presents or stocking stuffers and don't bust the budget. As an added bonus, the sale recycles books and keeps them out of the waste stream.

The library sale is open year-round during regular library hours. Donations can be dropped off at the front desk anytime.