Monday, July 30, 2007

Another Library Book Sale Feeding Frenzy

Many of us have enjoyed library book sales from time to time because it's always a little bit exciting to wonder what you might find hidden in those stacks of used books. At the very least, we all hope to walk away with five or six bargain books that we've been meaning to read for a long time. Prices are good, books are everywhere, and it's nice to be surrounded by book lovers like ourselves. Those were the "good old days" of library used book sales.
More and more common is the library book sale like the one described by Walter Browne in the Philadelphia Inquirer last Friday.


Recently, more than 100 booklovers crammed into the Gloucester County Library in Mullica Hill - an oasis of tranquility and civility. It was the opening of the library's book sale.

Most of us were there to buy a few used books - but then, there were the Others.

I warn you: Book sales can be mean. They are an unhealthy blend of Norman Rockwell and capitalism. Arrive early and you can witness the sideshow: the wrinkle-shirted book dealers with their dollies and empty cardboard boxes.
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Inside, the vultures ravaged the tables to stock their online stores or used bookstores. They had roaming goons, too, minions separating the Hemingways from the Harlequins. Eyes and hands never moved so fast.
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One thinning-haired man with a scruffy beard and wrinkled shorts was yelling obscenities as he flung empty boxes. One smacked a guy as he entered. "I'm trying to work here!" the dealer snarled. "Someone took my damn books! This is insane!" Everyone froze - except the other dealers, who knew that it was an excellent time to snatch more books. The crazed man accused the elderly volunteers of incompetence. It was excellent entertainment. One of the volunteers told the enraged dealer he would have to leave if he didn't calm down. "We have women and children present!" he said, even threatening to call the police.
This kind of thing seems to be happening all around the country since the abundance of internet booksellers has forced bookstore owners to scramble for the books they need to restock their store shelves. But enough is enough.

Library sales are generally stocked with books that have been donated by "friends of the library." Those donations give libraries an extra source of revenue but they are not intended to provide a nice profit margin for resellers; they are meant to be shared by library patrons. Perhaps it is getting near the time that book dealers need to be banned from such sales. If so, I don't want to hear a bunch of whining from the very people who are ruining library book sales for the rest of us. Yes, enough really is enough.

16 comments:

  1. It was a particularly horrifying story in the Inquirer. My husband saved it out for me to read in print and I found it all too disheartening. It's all too similar to the second-hand dealers who show up at our Annual Church Fair to ransack the White Elephant Sale.

    I do find it disspiriting, but I note that there are authors and publishers as well who would like to see all of us move to a pay-per-view environment when it comes to content. They really do think one should pay to read content every single time...

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  2. Hilarious photo! Perhaps the library should set up a day to sell books to booksellers with, er, "special" prices...

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  3. I'm wondering how to keep the book dealers out. But you're right, they should be banned! And I like the photo, too :)

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  4. We don't really have that problem here. But I can't say I was all that thrilled with the last library sale here, despite the absence of book dealers. We were left picking through marked up editions of The Muppets Take Manhattan and An Idiot's Guide to Word Perfect while the librarian courteously escorted all of her friends to the back to have access to the real loot.

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  5. I haven't seen this happening around here...yet. But who knows as word spreads. How sad for individual book lovers. I hope the libraries do something to stop this.

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  6. Really interesting post. Gosh, it's a wild world described in that library - real dog eat dog! Have never really come across the library book sale phenomenon...other than a few tatty cardboard boxes marked 50c or $1 at the entrance.

    I think the differences may be that (i) public libraries don't get donations of books in Australia - it is expected that libraries are local council funded, so even if they are not funded adequately, people wouldn't think to donate their old books there and the culture of fundraising for local public institutions isn't there(ii) individuals would be more likely to donate books to a charity shop like St Vincent de Paul, or try to sell them themselves directly to a second hand dealer (iii) the libraries themselves donate old stock to large institutional book sales, the largest of which in Sydney is run by the University of NSW and takes place over a 4 day period annually in April . It has thousands of books, many ex-library: http://www.bookfair.unsw.edu.au/about.html
    They meet every week throughout the year to sort books. I bet a fair few dealers make their way to the fair :-)

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  7. Wow, Jill, for a book story to make the Inquirer it really must have come across as something awful.

    I've heard a few people advocate for making sale of used books illegal because or demanding royalty payments to authors for second sales but I can't imagine that will ever catch on. At least, I hope not.

    It reminds me of that warning that is/used to be in the front of British editions of books. I was never sure exactly what that really meant since there are used book sellers in the U.K.

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  8. I agree, Sylvia...booksellers should get a special day at the END of the sale. They should not be allowed to trample the rest of us.

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  9. Thanks, gentle reader; the photo seemed appropriate considering some of the sharks surrounding the book tables. :-)

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  10. John, I think I would have had to raise holy hell with that librarian and/or her ultimate boss. That's just so unfair that it makes me want to holler about it. Your patience is remarkable.

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  11. Amy, libraries are going to have to find a way to at least control those people are regular folks are going to lose interest in the process. Why donate books just to put a few extra bucks into the pockets of a few rude booksellers?

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  12. Sounds like a totally different environment when it comes to library funding and books sales, Sally. Libraries here are funded, for the most part, with tax dollars but most libraries are lucky enough to have some sort of "Friends of the Library" group that donates time, cash and money to the library to put them over the top. I do suppose that's just the library culture which grew up in this country because it is totally accepted as the normal way to get it done here.

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  13. Just a note; not all book dealers are rude buyers, though I've seen my share of those. Plus, libraries need to sell the books in their booksales, for the income and to get rid of the stock they have nowhere to store. So whomever will buy them is welcome.
    Though I do share your frustration at smelly old men pushing you aside as you try to pick something up.

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  14. I totally agree that it is dangerous to paint all book resellers with the same brush, Melanie, but there is a disturbing trend at work here that libraries need to nip in the bud.

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  15. Wow, that is wild. I used to live in a portion of this city here, called Gloucester [pronounced by us Canucks, "Gloster"]... I have not seen that word for so long now!
    And don't you just love a great Book sale? I love it. The best one I go to now is called The Rockcliffe Park Book Fair... takes place at the end of every October.
    I take the day off work all the time.... then duck and hide from the local TV cameras that always cover the event... so my boss does not see me when he's eating supper that evening.....
    All the best, Sam.
    -- Cip

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  16. Honestly, Cip, I've never personally had a whole lot of luck at library book sales. I hate standing in lines so I tend to arrive well after the doors have been opened. I suppose, by then, all the best stuff is already gone and the pickings are pretty slim.

    From the sounds of this article, and others like it that I've seen, I'm going to have to start getting to the sales a lot earlier, sounds like.

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