Find your next excellent read at the library!
It’s November now, which means we’ve already lost precious time on shopping for the winter holidays ahead — at least according to Walmart, where I saw boxes of artificial trees, some kind of North Pole mailbox, and racks of ornaments for sale weeks before Halloween.
Books make the best gifts, of course, and I’m an avid supporter of several independent bookstores in the wider DC area, including Mystery Loves Company in Oxford, MD, One More Page Books in Arlington, VA, and Scrawl Books in Reston, VA. (In fact, I’ll be a guest bookseller at Scrawl Books later this month for Indies First/Small Business Saturday on November 25th, so do stop by!)
But here’s a secret about one of my other favorite places to shop for books, a place not only for good deals but also for doing good work: my local library’s seasonal book sales.
I’ll always turn to the local independents when I need a new title, but library book sales have proven little treasure troves for out-of-print or hard-to-find books. My own local library, the Burke Centre branch of the Fairfax County Public Library, offers four seasonal book sales each year, and I always mark my calendar so as not to miss opening day each time. And with two additional book sales geared solely toward kids, our son, Dash, has become a fan, as well.
What sorts of treasures have we found? I came across the original two-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes in hardcover for about $5, and for a dollar a book, I rounded out my collection of the Best American Mystery Stories series with a few elusive volumes, thanks to a donor who’d apparently divested their full set. And then there was the first edition of Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49…
That last title was listed at a premium, as you can imagine — autographed and collectible books demand higher prices — but most hardcovers are a few dollars at most, with paperbacks in the 50-cents to one-dollar range.
So how can such small amounts help the library?
“Our branch brings in about $10,000 for each sale of the year,” explains Joy Whittington, book-sale chair for the Friends of the Burke Centre Library. While she hasn’t kept track of the number of books she’s ushered through the process — too many to count! — she noted that her team handles between 300 and 350 boxes of books in preparation for each event, all donated by library patrons.
Those funds support the library in a number of ways. Whittington points to collection enhancement, the library’s summer reading program and other programming for both adults and children, and special requests for equipment from the branch staff.
“We also fund a scholarship now for volunteers and staff,” she says: $2,000 in tuition money for undergraduate or graduate study. And 10 percent of the fall sale went to hurricane relief for libraries in Houston and Florida. “The storms were inflicting their damage as we set up the sale,” Whittington explains, “and it just seemed so appropriate that we share the money from our generously donated books with those devastated communities.”
As for Whittington herself, who’s been in this volunteer position since the branch opened in 2008, the rewards take a different form: “I have the pleasure of opening boxes and getting to see what’s inside,” she says. “I found $100 in a book just this week. You’ll never know what you’ll find.”
If the treasures I’ve discovered at my local library sale have delighted me, the ones Whittington has enjoyed rank even higher: books signed by Julia Child and Mickey Mantle and, just recently, J.K. Rowling — a Harry Potter title they’re still trying to figure out to handle as a fundraiser.
I’m hoping it might turn up at the next book sale: Friday and Saturday, December 1st-2nd. I’ve marked the dates already and am planning to be first in line for that Harry Potter if it turns up!
(An updated list of book sales for the Fairfax County Public Library system can be found here. Check your own local library’s website for information in your area. You never know what you’ll discover!)