How A Used Book Sale Gets Boise's Public Library System $34K In New Books

Apr 7, 2015

A warehouse across from the Boise Public Library is bustling with activity, as dozens and dozens of boxes of books are brought in and unloaded.

“Boxes everywhere, we drown in boxes!” says volunteer Diana Cross. She’s helping set up for the 33rd annual Spring Book Sale, organized by the Friends of the Boise Public Library.

Cross has been volunteering for six or seven years now, ever since she retired. The non-profit group, known simply as "Friends" among its members, was incorporated in 1971 and is separate from the main library. The group puts on three used book sales a year and the spring event is their biggest fundraiser.

“Our best estimate is 955 boxes and we estimate 50 books per box, so that would be 47,750 books,” Cross says.

She sees 200,000 books a year come through the door at Friends, most of them donated by the community. “I did not believe the magnitude of this when I first became a volunteer.”

Those 200,000 books are sorted by Friends volunteers. Some go into the library collection. Most of the rest end up in a book sale like this one. When the sale starts, they open the warehouse doors and a long line of people will start shopping.

Jeanette Ross used to be one of those shoppers. “Oh yeah, that accounts for half my library,” she says as she laughs.

Ross was there for every book sale. She moved to the area in 1983 and found the Friends’ sales soon after.

“I was tuned into libraries since I was raising kids as a graduate student. It was always one of the first things the kids had, they had a library card and they had a summer swim ticket.”

Friends of the Boise Public Library volunteer Diana Cross sorts through some of the thousands of children's books that will be on sale.
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

She says after years of going to the sales, she started feeling guilty for not doing more to support the library. That drove her to become one of the Friends’ 120 volunteers. Now she works the book sales. She loves walking by the children’s book section.

“And there’s kids sitting cross-legged on the floor, humming to themselves, while they look through books,” Ross starts humming, “hmm, hmm, they’re just so happy,” she says as she laughs.

The sale is not just for kids. Bonnie Longstreth, who coordinates the sale, says it's for all readers.

“All walks of life, I mean everybody, we have retired people, we have young people, we have families, everybody,” Longstreth points out.

The sale includes videos, CDs, records, and old magazines. There are individually-priced books including new editions, Native American, and vintage books. But the majority are “by the bag” books.

Longstreth says for $9, shoppers stuff as many books as they can into a plastic grocery sack. “If you pack carefully, you can get about 50 paperbacks in a bag. So it’s a good deal for people who are readers,” she says.

Those $9 bags add up.

Last spring, Friends’ brought in $34,000. Last year, total book sales were $180,000. That money buys new library books and pays for special projects.

This year, Friends has committed a half million dollars to the new Bown library branch, for books and other needs. In the past, Friends has helped pay for some of the books at the Collister, Hillcrest, and Cole and Ustick library branches.

Behind the main sale wall, Bonnie Longstreth, points out some of the books in storage. Friends hopes to sell all the books they have on hand at this sale.
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

Friends’ volunteer Erin Logan is surrounded by hundreds of books. She expertly whips out a wicked-looking box cutter and breaks down an empty box. She’s stacking cookbooks on a shelf.

“We’ve got books for vegetarians, French, Russian, and tea, wine, beer, any beverages you can think of,” Logan says.

She pulls more books out of a box. She says there’s something special about this particular book sale.

“It’s a treasure hunt. And we all need those sort of excursions in our lives to get out of our day to day and just explore. And this is a great place to explore,” Logan says.

The Friends say their goals are to get good quality books into peoples' hands, and to sell all the books they have in the warehouse. More donations will quickly come in, they say, and the cycle starts all over again, for their Summer Fiction Sale.

The Friends of the Boise Public Library spring sale starts Thursday and runs for four days. On Sunday, everything  is half price.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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