Thursday, October 11, 2007

Library Sales Disappointments

I've been disappointed by what was available for sale at the last few library book sales events that I've attended. A combination of things seems to have limited choices largely to the same kind of junk that I see on grocery store book racks and at Wal-Mart, the usual bestsellers written by the same handful of authors who churn them out two or three times a year for those readers who don't seem to realize that there are more than ten authors in the country. I realize that sounds snobbish and I don't mean to offend anyone (just can't help myself sometimes).

Libraries now have groups of volunteers who pull the better books from what has been donated so that they can sell those books to book dealers or on eBay. I understand why they want to do that, of course, but it eliminates most of the excitement of a big library sale. Searching for that elusive needle in the haystack is part of the fun and I miss it. Worse, yet I have noticed on at least two occasions that library staff pluck books for themselves before the doors are open to the general public. And worst of all was the time that I noticed one library employee letting her friends rummage through what was for sale at least an hour before the rest of us were allowed to take a look.

This article from the Chronicle-Telegram
points out a new hazard that I haven't yet encountered, special scanners with a built-in data base to immediately recognize the more valuable books.
Collecting books for more than a decade, Mittler has slowly refined his bibliophilic taste, selecting choice books he knows are worth a little extra. But at this year’s sale he’ll be competing with people who aren’t so much book-lovers as they are people zealously committed to finding a book worth more than a buck.

They’re called “scanners.” They use handheld scanners to scan the bar codes on books, checking a book’s price in a database downloaded to the handheld device. Some people say it’s cheating, but organizers of the Elyria book sale say they’re allowing the scanners at this year’s sale — simply to be fair.

“These people will go in teams and hit row upon row of books with bar code scanners,” Mittler said.

Of course, some of the really old books don’t have bar codes, so a book dealer’s depth of knowledge can be invaluable.

“Dealers know exactly what they’re looking for,” Mittler said.
Popular these days, for instance, are “hyper-modern” books written just within the past few decades, but still hard to find.

Some great examples: Any autographed, first-edition book by Cormac McCarthy floats around $600 to $700, while a 2003 limited-edition print of “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini, fetches more than $2,000.

“Most people looking at that would see a new book and just pass right over it,” Mittler said. “That’s where a knowledge of book collecting comes in.”
I have to admit, that being a high-tech addict, that little scanner is a very tempting new toy. I'm going to have to see what I can find out about them...yes, I'll feel guilty about that.


  1. I don't mind the library staff getting an advance pick; seems to me that's a nice benefit to offer them in return for their work (my grandmother used to volunteer at a library in Ithaca, NY; once a year they had a ginormous sale, and the staff & volunteers got to get in a day ahead). On the other hand, letting your friends in early too is rather rude.

  2. I can understand how staff would deserve an early peek (how anyone would ever stop that, I can't imagine anyway) but bringing in friends and family early is what really chapped me. But even if it's letting staff cherry-pick the stock, it does take away a lot of the excitement of the search for me...and that's all the fun.