How the Book Sales Work

            Organizing our thrice-yearly book sales is quite the task!  While they’ve been happening for over 30 years, we’ve changed things up a bit the past couple of years since Patty Norris retired, though we still try to honor the system she created.  She was the driving force/book sale goddess behind all those sales and she still volunteers to work the sale each time.  She had a team of co-workers and volunteers who helped organize, label, sort and shelve items, but with changes in personnel and time, I do the sales prep mostly alone.  I’m pretty much a loner anyway, and self-motivated, so it works.  Often, you’ll see me driving a shopping cart across the parking lot filled with books.  I take donated books to the library to label them when we’re short on staff and I can’t go work in the Activity Center, but most weeks I get over there for six or seven hours.  We are starting a Friends of the Library group, spearheaded by Janan McCreery, our Board Chair, so I anticipate more help soon!

            We get donations regularly, which is great.  Without those, we’re sunk, so we’re grateful for any and all books and puzzles in good shape, with no stains, bugs, mold, or torn covers.  We don’t take many magazines---only cooking and craft and the occasional oddity that might sell.  There are wonderful volunteers who work the sale each time; without them we would be in big trouble.  They tirelessly greet people, help find books, add up and bag purchases, and offer shoppers coffee or tea.  I call them every few months to pester them about working the next sale, and they are all unfailingly patient and sweet-tempered, which I greatly appreciate!

            First step for book sales is establishing the dates for the three sales.  The first sale is right after New Year’s, the next is always during National Library Week in April (though we tried May last year and that wasn’t as successful), and the third is the first part of October. 


The method for getting books onto shelves to sell is as follows: 


1.    Go through donations; sort them into categories (non-fiction, hardback fiction, paperback fiction, western, classics, etc.).  Unfortunately, some go in the trash straightaway if they’re moldy or have bugs.  It helps immensely if the public goes through their donations first and tosses out any books that are in bad shape.  I hate to throw items out, but if they’re not sellable, I have no choice, and I really appreciate not having to breathe in mold, which I’ve done more than once, or reach into a bloody mouse nest!


2.      Have a supply of colored dots for each sale (each sale is a different color so I can keep track of when the items go up for sale).  Regular size paperbacks get a small dot; everything else gets a bigger dot with a marked price.  The small dot means it’s $2.00.  We have some items for as little as .25 cents; some go for $100 or more.  I check book values on when I encounter more valuable items to make sure we get the appropriate amount of money for the library while still offering the public a good deal.  Most items are $2.00 to $4.00.


3.      After labeling each item, I sort them into grocery carts and shelve them.  Non-fiction is labeled by shelf as to what category it is (religion, pets, hobbies, history, etc.).  It’s up to me to determine the category and shelve the items so the public isn’t confused.  All the non-fiction shelves are labeled overhead according to category.  Hardback and oversize paperback fiction go together on the main shelves you see as you come in the door.  Regular small paperback fiction goes on the shelves in the back of the building.  One room is filled with westerns, classics, sci-fi, fantasy and mysteries.  The other back room is an overflow for the regular size paperback fiction.  I alphabetize all of the books by author’s last name except non-fiction, the arts room (which is also non-fiction), and children’s.    Non-fiction isn’t alphabetized anyway; it’s according to Dewey Decimal System.  I don’t bother to alphabetize the kids’ area because it gets the most traffic, and items are moved about a lot, as you can imagine.  The arts (gardening/cooking/music/crafts) room is categorized by subject just like the non-fiction room.  I also have a large-print area that I started two book sales ago.  It’s in the front to the right as you enter the sale. 


4.      I make book sale posters to put up around town, which takes a couple of hours of walking and driving to outlying areas.  I mail flyers to the surrounding towns, fax flyers to radio and TV stations, newspapers and other libraries.  Joan advertises the sales on her Tuesday morning radio chats, and we try to get newspapers to come report on the sales.


5.      Shortly before a sale, I set up the front tables with high-interest materials: Western U.S. Native American, and Wyoming items, nicer children’s books, coffee table books, collector’s items that are pricier.  I replenish these tables as much as possible over the course of the sale.


6.      Next is cleaning and vacuuming and setting out coffee and tea, stocking up on bags and water bottles, calling volunteers to remind them about their work times (after already calling them weeks ahead to set up their times, or tripping them when they come in the library to beg them to work).  I make reservations at a local restaurant to do a volunteer breakfast the week after the sale is done.  This is the only thanks they get for their time and efforts, other than me telling them how much I appreciate them.


7.      Each day when volunteers show up, I fill them in on any info they need, offer water, coffee, etc., give them a money box, and off they go.  I check in numerous times a day with them, collect money and deposit it each day, straighten shelves several times a day, restock the front tables . . . and do this for two weeks straight.  Usually I kidnap my husband and daughter to help me work the first Saturday of the sale, which is quite busy and which I’m leery about dumping on volunteers.


8.      After the sale is over, I collapse in a heap and don’t do any work for months . . . just kidding.  I immediately pull all books off the shelves that have gone through two sales (hence the color dots system).  These go in boxes and are donated to local people, clinics, organizations, other libraries or causes.  We try hard to reuse and recycle so others can enjoy the books.  Then I start the whole process over and start labeling, sorting, shelving, etc.  It takes many hours to get a sale ready, and the work is constant.  Each sale starts with approximately 20,000 to 30,000 books on the shelves for sale!

            We experimented with a one-week-long fill-a-bag sale in Jan.  The response was good, so we might do that every January.  We changed the format of the regular two-week sales as well.  The first week is regular price, with all the collector’s items front and center, then the second week will be fill-a-bag for $15 from now on.  The half-price sale is gone, as is the box sale.  The reason for this is a lag in sales during the half-price, and boxes are harder to obtain than they used to be, and they fold in half when full, which is a problem for some of our elderly volunteers and shoppers.  We offer plastic or paper bags for the fill-a-bag sale, or you can bring your own or even use a cloth shopping bag as long as it’s not crazy big. 

            We take donations at any time except for the two weeks during an actual sale.  Even then we get items, but we ask that the public not bring items that elderly volunteers might have to lift or move.  Many of our donations are items from previous sales, so we recycle that way as well.  My guess is previously-sold books constitute about 40% of the items in each book sale, which might sound strange to the public, but it’s a real boon for us.  If you think about the limited budgets of libraries, it’s a blessing to have a community that loves buying books and giving them back to us.  So if you have gently loved books you would like to donate to a good cause, we’d love to have them!  Thank you for your generosity and continued enthusiasm for our small-town book sales!