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Looking for good deals at the Library book sale

Every month an impressive process takes place in a corner of the Mill Valley Public Library. It starts with members of the community delivering bags, boxes and sometimes carloads of books to the library. Donations come from Boyle Park to Homestead Valley, from Enchanted Knolls to Marinview, and from downtown to Strawberry and beyond. It ends with the monthly Friends of the Mill Valley Library Book Sale.

The books exemplify the diverse and literate character of Marin County citizens. They include best sellers, book club favorites, serious works of biography, history, philosophy, high technology reference manuals, art and coffee table books. People also donate records, CDs, DVDs, videos and puzzles.

Library staff members select a few items for the library's collection. The rest go to the Friends of the Mill Valley Library for book sales, held the third Saturday of each month. Each week dozens of volunteers spring into action. On Monday morning, several people sort the hundreds of new donations into various categories - fiction, poetry, travel, sports, etc. Mary Jean Jawetz takes the money at a recent book saleOn Wednesday, the people in charge of each section arrive to price, fine sort, and shelve their items. Having one person in charge of each department ensures consistent pricing and timely discarding. On sale days additional volunteers pitch in to sell upwards of 5,000 items.

This is quite a change from 1979 when Mary Jean Jawetz became supervisor of an initial core of 15-20 volunteers. "I did everything," she says, "including writing out the signs that were posted throughout town. We used muffin tins to make change!"

A few years later Joanne Hively began working on the bi-monthly sales, eventually becoming Head of the Book Sale. "I saw ways to make the sale more efficient and profitable," says Joanne, "so I began working with Mary Jean to implement changes." These changes included reorganization of the Friends' permanent space in the library and the addition of shelving to increase capacity. Only high quality donations were solicited and most library discards were discontinued. Additional volunteers were recruited and standards for pricing books were developed. The important task of publicity was her focus to let people know about the sales, which had by that time been increased to monthly. Joanne continues, "In response to customer requests, we began restocking shelves midway during the sale to offer late arriving customers an equally great selection, and we culled vigorously after a sale to ensure mainly fresh offerings each month." All these changes made a measurable impact. From 1984 to 1988 sales averaged $15,000 a year. Ten years later they averaged $50,000!

Today, the book sales are so popular that customers arrive early for the sales, which begin at 9:00 AM. A staff person begins distributing numbers at 7:30 to indicate the order in which people arrived. Other staff members help out by carrying tables and bargain books outside to the patio. They may then leave to get coffee, rest, or stay to browse the bargain books until the sale begins.

An essential piece of the enterprise is finding appropriate homes for the thousands of books culled after each sale to make room for new stock. The Friends of the Library supplies books to several children's literacy projects and homeless centers and to Friends of the Library groups from Redding to Lake County to San Francisco.

Hundreds of paperbacks boxed for women's prisons in California are stored for a Sausalito attorney who arranges delivery. A volunteer from the Marin County jail picks up bag loads of general interest paperbacks for men and women prisoners, and books on parenting to augment a program the jail offers to male inmates. Books in Spanish are also popular at the jail.

The Friends partners with the Mill Valley Rotary Club to send books in English to university libraries and reference rooms in the Far East. Patrons buying booksThe Friends select college level books on agriculture, anthropology, economics, engineering, math, art, history, literature and reference works. The Rotary provides the truck and muscle to deliver the boxes to a San Francisco pier, where they are shipped abroad by the Bridge to Asia group.

The current crew of 30 volunteers considers its efforts rewarding and enjoyable. They know that not only are they benefiting the library but are offering a valuable service to the community.

A very special contributor is retired librarian and children's book expert Bee Thorpe. With her ability to recognize and evaluate particularly valuable books, Bee prices books for the Specials Table each sale. She also collects rare and unusual books all year long for the annual Silent Auction in September.

Another perspective comes from retired bookseller Dan Druckerman. "My family has been in the book business since the 19th century," he relates. "I sold books from my store in San Rafael from 1958 to 1994; then I joined the Friends because of my love of books." Dan continues: "I have a good memory for titles, for when a book was published and whether it is a good read. I use this knowledge to benefit our patrons. Being around books is my lifelong passion."

Customers appreciate both the reasonable prices and the professional way the sale is run. Brian Newick, a Bay Area book dealer who goes to library book sales all over Northern California, cites the Mill Valley sale as "an example of how to do it right. The prices are low enough to encourage both buying on impulse and in quantity. I feel there is just the right balance in your criteria for accepting donations and doing good for the community. No one does it any better!"

All funds the Friends raises are used to benefit the library. In early years proceeds were used mainly to purchase special materials not covered in the library's acquisition budget. Recently, the Friends provided funds for library staff to offer hands-on computer classes and other special programs for adults and children.

While the staff has changed over the years, Mary Jean Jawetz still sorts books and supervises the volunteers. "I have the most fun," she says. "I count the money!"

The Mill Valley Library Book Sale is held on the third Saturday of the month from 9am to 4:30pm. A special two-day book sale is held on the third weekend of September to coincide with the Fall Arts Festival. The Friends of the Mill Valley Library welcomes new people to help with the sales, both as backup for current staff as well as day-of-sale workers. To discuss possibilities, please call 415-389-4292 x116.

This article is © Paulette Leuke.
Last updated: 8/5/2008 10:17:28 AM