Used-book sales bring in money for libraries

Credits: Edward Colimore, Inquirer Staff Writer


The first bargain-hunters show up at 7 a.m., long before the Voorhees library opens, and form a line that grows to 250 and snakes around the building.

Cashiers and security guards are ready for the rush when the doors are unlocked, while other staff look over a balcony at what's been compared to the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

The attraction: more than 45,000 used books and thousands of CDs, videos, books on tape, LPs, and magazines, spread out on 70 tables across the Camden County Library System's M. Allan Vogelson Regional Branch on Laurel Road.

"It's like Black Friday, only kinder and gentler," branch manager William Brahms said of the twice-yearly sale, to start at 10 a.m. Thursday and run through Saturday. "If people get pushy, they're asked to leave."

Over the last decade, libraries across the country have seen a significant increase in used-book donations from patrons, estates, and baby boomers downsizing as they enter retirement and smaller living quarters, officials said.

Adding to the used inventory are volumes from libraries divesting of physical books to meet their clientele's changing preferences.

Library managers and booster groups say they're benefiting from a "golden age of used books," with revenue from resold items adding to the institutions' coffers by as much as $50,000 a year.

"It's a golden age for readers, too, because there's so much to choose from," said Marcia Warner, immediate past president of the Public Library Association, a division of the nonprofit American Library Association.

The increased donation of materials "has been a boon" to libraries that sell them for a fraction of their cost, said Warner, director of the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Public Library.

"In the last three years, we've gone from $12,000 in sales to $18,000 to $26,000" in Grand Rapids, she said.

The rising sales come as many book stores - chains and mom-and-pops - have closed and people have turned increasingly to e-readers and the Internet for their reading and reference needs.

At the recently renovated Ludington Library in Bryn Mawr, a room permanently set aside for used-book sales will open soon.

In Center City, the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia has two stores - the Book Corner at 311 N. 20th St. and the Next Page at 722 Chestnut St. - where sales are brisk. The second site opened in 2010.