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.
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.
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.
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