By Alison Rooney
The Desmond-Fish Library (DFL) book sale is such a well-established local tradition that even Library Director Carol Donick, does not know exactly how many years it’s been around. But she is sure the answer is “at least twenty—it was going strong when I arrived here in 1996.” The sale, which dominates August at the library, is actually a year-round activity, with a constant flow of books being dropped off and volunteers sorting through them each and every month. The sole exception is the two weeks before the sale, (because there is simply no room) and one week after, (to avoid confusing newly-donated books from those which were not purchased at the sale). Books are going strong at the library, with upticks in both donations and visitors to the sale each year.
Donick estimates that eager readers move between 10,000 and 15,000 books through DFL’s automatic doors, down into the basement Program
Room and back up and out again each season. The books arrive solely through donations. Amongst them are collectibles, often pointed out by the donor and reserved for a special table filled with first editions and signed copies. Occasionally a donation comes in with a request that it not be used for the sale. That happened with a man who donated the Oxford English Dictionary, but wished that it be kept by the library, so that he might visit it from time to time! Not all books make it to the sale—those with mold, which can spread to other books, or any which are disintegrating in some fashion, are pulled. Outdated travel guides (more than 10 years old) don’t make it either. The vast majority, however, do find their way to the tables, courtesy of the efforts of the volunteers who sift through each box and sort each book into one of the many categories into which the sale is divided. According to Donick, the most popular are gardening, art, cooking, crafts and hobbies.
The sale is always packed on opening night, which is a Friends of the
Library members-only event, always on a Friday. Non-members can join at the door, and each year many do. The library encourages customers to come on Saturday or Sunday instead, to avoid the crowds. In fact, Friday night is so popular that the DFL may have to restrict the number of people in the room at any given time, for safety’s sake. There are other opportunities to be the first to delve into the array of books, as they are refreshed frequently. A great many new books are put out between the first and second weekends, so everyone is urged to come more than once to search for treasures; never assume that all the best volumes are gone.
Saturday, Aug. 28 brings a cut to half price for books (except those in the ‘Special Section’). On the last Sunday of the sale, (Aug. 29, 1 – 5 p.m.), the bargain price of “fill a box for $5” applies. Donations are accepted; the library asks buyers to bring their own boxes. An even greater bargain applies on the final day, Monday, Aug. 30, from 1 – 3 p.m., when all books are free. That’s right: free! On that day, groups come from other libraries and charities, teachers stock up for their classrooms, and the general public is more than welcome. Beyond that date, all unsold books are taken by a “book jobber” who loads them into big bins and pays by the bin, so the DFL still makes some money on every book donated. The books used to go into the prison system, but security concerns (on the part of the prisons) do not allow that anymore.
The book-buying public may notice dealers going through the stacks, often hurriedly. The library does not discourage the dealers, as they
purchase quite a number of books. It’s no longer a pawing through dusty volumes type of trade, as the dealers frequently have devices with which they can scan an ISBN number and get an instant reading of a book’s value. Unfortunately for the dealers, the scanners often do not work in the DFL basement, and no one is allowed to remove books from the premises for any reason before purchase. Many of the dealers are very knowledgeable about the collection. Donick cites local antiquarian book dealer David Lilburne, of the Garrison’s Landing-based Antipodean Books as being extremely helpful in determining value. She notes that Lilburne gives hours of his time assisting the library, and it’s not always the editions one expects which have value. According to Donick, Lilburne recently pulled out a “older, aged Anaí¯s Nin paperback from the 60’s from a stack, saying ‘this one’s valuable'”—and indeed it turned out to be worth $30/$60. The library has priced it much lower, however. As Donick explained, “we price lower than the Internet; the Internet helps us price, but we want the public to feel they’re getting a bargain.”
People from a wide age spectrum come to the sale. Many older people
enjoy seeing the earlier editions of books. Many are serious collectors. The children’s section has its own rhythm, according to Donick. “It starts out slowly, with few books moving during the first couple of days. In fact, children are discouraged from coming on the first night. But as the prices decrease, the books start flying out the door, and usually none are left at the end. An added incentive is that from Saturday the 21st onwards, all children are given a free book of their choice, just for coming.” Donick feels that the sale is “a wonderful learning experience for both children and parents. The low prices allow children to try things out, no matter what. Sometimes they discover that what they chose is junky, but if you censor it, it can make things more alluring at a distance, as censorship can do.”
If you enjoy videotapes, best to snap some up at this sale, as it is debatable whether they will be returning next year. Last year there were quite a few left over, and the Friends of the Library have been mulling over not accepting them in the future, in order to allocate more space for books. Obsolete technology is a constant problem for libraries. The DFL has gradually been trimming its collection by about 100 videotapes each month, through attrition, as DVDs have become the media of choice (for now). LP records are also on the wane, with many remaining after last year’s
In contrast, Donick points out “what a wonderful medium books are, after all, they’ve been in the same format since the 1600s. They’re very popular and you don’t need a machine to read them. I firmly believe that my grandchildren will be reading books to their grandchildren. To sit and absorb a large quantity of text—that’s something.” Asked whether Kindle and its ilk were putting a dent into the printed book, Donick is clear: “Kindle serves a niche. There was no real advantage to the videotape that the DVD didn’t improve on, but DVDs didn’t replace movies or live theater—they fulfill a different need. Books are like live theater: they serve a need that nothing else does as well.” Using herself as a case in point, Donick adds “I’m in and out of this book sale all month long, but on that last day I always find one or two which catch my eye, and I bring them home to read.”
The DFL Book Sale hours are as follows:
Friday Aug. 20: 6 – 8:30 p.m., members only
Saturday Aug. 21: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday Aug. 22: 1 – 5 p.m.
Monday through Friday. Aug. 23-27: 2 – 5 p.m.
Saturday Aug. 28: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday Aug. 29: 1 – 5 p.m.
Monday Aug. 30: 1 – 3 p.m
For more information visit www.dfl.highlands.com or call 845-424-3020.
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