A Page a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

A Page a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

180 shoppers arrive in the first five minutes of the Arlington Public Library book sale.

Photo by Shirley Ruhe.

In the first five minutes of the book sale at the Central Library on Thursday night, 180 people had come through the door. “We were surprised,” Marty Pippins, book sale manager, said. Then on Friday morning it happened again with 172 people coming through in the first five minutes. Some people came prepared with rolling carts, some with bags and some with their shopping lists.

The library book sale ran Thursday-Sunday and officially began on Thursday night with Members Night. This is the time when the big book dealers make their appearance to snatch up the deals for resale. Peter Petruski, Division Chief of Collections and Access for the Library equates it to Black Friday. “It’s wild, very exciting. The dealers are first in the door with a plan and a mission and know what they are looking for.”

One of the volunteers observes it is like a shark feeding frenzy with aggressive resellers that aren’t very polite.

Petruski says, “You can get gems in any section. There has been a big run on art books. There are a lot of gorgeous art book donations that are brand new.” He added the book sale seems to have recovered from the pandemic and returned to pre-Covid sales.

Pippins says they have a dealer wall in the back corner for the purchases by the resellers where one reseller stacked their 75 boxes. “The largest sale was $6,000 to a D.C. bookstore. Sales had totaled $40,000 the first day.”

Brian Horn, both a donation processing team and a sales volunteer, said he does it because “it’s fun meeting the public and seeing some wonderful things.” Horn has been on the donation processing team since 2015 and working sales since 2010. 

There were 49 aisles full of books ranging from biography, animals, economics, to religion, travel, humor and children’s. “Children’s books are $1 each, a real bargain.” Horn adds that on Sunday they have a 50 percent discount for teachers and also for the public. 

Horn walks to his favorite aisle and pulls “Shadow of the Wolf” from the science fiction aisle. “We couldn’t keep science fiction on the shelves. Yesterday we had nine people looking at a time, and the shelf got emptied. We had to restock.” Horn’s wife, Merri Horn, is in charge of the donation processing team and says they work year round sorting and culling the donations from the community and getting the books ready for the sale. Merri says they don’t accept books that are moldy or not in good condition or that have been underlined. “We want them to look like new,” Brian says. 

Linda Friedman, Volunteer Coordinator, said she has noticed a lot of people come in looking for military history, graphic novels and foreign language dictionaries. “Today we have roughly 80 volunteers working in four-hour shifts. It is very common that people work more than one shift. Tim has signed up for six shifts.” Tim explained he used to work at the book sale even when he had a full-time job. Friedman says 168 volunteers signed up to work during the four-day sale.

Pippins said setting up for this book sale began on Monday, Oct. 23 when they pulled out the 82 book carts, half rented and half belonging to the library. The volunteers set up the perimeter fence along the edge of the library garage where the book sale would be held. 

Then on Tuesday, he continued, they pulled out 600 of the 2,000 boxes of books stored in the cage and placed the boxes where by category. “The boxes were mixed up in there. It was the only way we could store them but we can’t see what is there.” He explained, “We just pulled out and opened 600 boxes because we didn’t want to open too many and have to put them back.”

Pippins said they open and shelf the books on Wednesday. “When we got the initial books placed on the shelves we could see we could add another 100.” Pippins added he has been doing this for about 10 years. “There’s a lot of logistics.”

Once the fall book sale is over, there are always a lot of books left unsold. Pippins concluded, “On Monday a couple of companies with 3-4 20-foot trucks come and take the leftover books away. They try to resell the books and give us a little but not much.” 

Then the books are gone, and they start all over again.