Volunteers befriend libraries and museum by reselling and recycling books


By Joanne Engelhardt

When Dan Brown’s mystery thriller “The DaVinci Code” was released in 2003, it sold over 80 million copies in its first six years. It was beaten the same year by JK Rowling’s fifth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, which sold the same number of books in just six months.

These are just two of some 300,000 books published that year. By 2021, that number had grown to several million. But what happens to all those books once they are devoured by their buyers? And where do the hundreds of popular titles that public libraries buy go when they’re no longer used?

Through used bookstores like Encore Books in downtown Redwood City, as well as smaller bookstores run by libraries and volunteers, many books are resold, read, donated, and sold a third, fourth or fifth time, and sometimes even more. “We’re doing everything we can to avoid putting books in a recycling bin,” says Redwood City Library Director Derek Wolfgram. But with around 224,000 books available in its secondary libraries, chances are many cannot be spared this fate.

“Library policy states that whenever a book is worn out, out of date, or no longer on loan, it’s time to remove it from our shelves,” adds Wolfgram. He raves about the volunteers of the Friends of Redwood Public Library who spend countless hours looking for new homes for selected books.

An annex upstairs

It’s similar to the process followed by the San Carlos Library, according to branch manager Jessica Koshi-Lum. Used bestsellers and other nearly new books can be purchased for $3 from a small shop just inside the library. A much larger room called the Annex on the second floor holds around 9,000 used books, which library volunteers sort through for their monthly sale days.

Janice Smith has been a volunteer with the Friends group for approximately 13 years (three as president and 11 as a board member). Today, her main responsibility is to run the annex and organize the book sale one Sunday a month. Although the sale only lasts three hours, the cashiers and volunteer helpers rack up about $2,000 in sales each month.

This story appeared in the March edition of Climate Magazine.

The Annex has about 25 regular volunteers, more than half of whom are responsible for specific sections like history, fiction, business and memoir. The others are floaters and help wherever needed, such as disposal, dotting and shelving of books.

Smith explains that the Friends use a “points” system to weed out books that don’t sell. When a book arrives at the annex, the volunteers mark it with one of four colored dots. When the books with the “oldest” colored dots have been on the shelves for four months, they are discarded.

That doesn’t mean they go to recycling bins. Over the years, books have found new homes at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital, San Mateo County Juvenile Hall, a Costa Rican library, an elementary school in Kenya, in the Notre Dame school district, to new teachers at the school in San Carlos and Redwood City. districts and other worthwhile non-profit projects.

The book corner

Tucked away in a corner of the San Carlos Library Annex is an area called the “Book Nook”, where old and vintage books are kept. Roy Hoyer oversees this specialist area, which has received donations of several very old books over the years.

A notable treasure was a 1900 first edition of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” which, Hoyer recalled, sold for $750. “The buyer didn’t say exactly why he wanted it, but he likes collecting famous books.” Hoyer says it was in tatters with a few pages missing, and adds “It would have been worth a lot more if it was in better shape.”

He receives help from volunteer scanners who evaluate donated books to decide whether to put them in the Bookstore, Annex, or Book Nook. To determine a price for other special books, Hoyer checks the Amazon price and then lists them for half of it.

“Some of my clients come monthly or bi-monthly to see what’s recently been given away,” he says, “because repeat visits can pay off with a real find.” Hoyer has already obtained a first edition of “The Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child which sold for $50 and three volumes of the 1747 edition of “Memoirs of Sully” (Henry the Great’s premier ).

Smith estimates that the San Carlos Friends group gives the library about $40,000 a year, although in 2013 he donated $275,000 due to a large donation. Over the years, the group of Friends has financed the purchase of outdoor furniture for the library, as well as for Healthy Cities tutoring, special programs, equipment and library materials.

Friends of Redwood City

The Redwood City Friends Group has a bookstore near the downtown library entrance doors and several other rooms to sort, clean, and price books for sale. Friends president Mary Scavanda said around a dozen members were showing up each week to sort through donations, up from around 25 before the Covid pandemic. The Friends also stock a small “kiosk” of books at the Redwood Shores Library branch.

Before the pandemic, Scavarda says the Friends group received about 30 bags of donated books each week, most of which are left in the library lobby. Donors also bring new or like-new books to a monthly drop-off event, behind the downtown library. It was suspended for seven months, but resumed in February.

“We sell much of our best inventory online through Spectrum Books (spectrum-books.com) and the proceeds go to the Redwood City Library,” she adds. (They also sell through Amazon and eBay.) Scavanda estimates average annual online sales at $20,000 to $25,000.

Its volunteers discovered many unusual objects among the donations. “One time we found $300 and we had no way of knowing who had donated the book it was in,” she recalls. Other more prosaic items left in the books include airline boarding passes, photos, and socks.

The group of friends at the downtown Redwood City library had an unusual side activity last year: Honey. They set up three beehives on the roof of the library, tended by a subgroup of volunteers dubbed the Redwood City Library Bees. About 1,400 jars of honey sold for $10 a jar, with all proceeds going to the library.

Overall, the Redwood City Friends group plans to fund approximately $93,000 in library projects this year, ranging from $31,343 for children’s programs, $5,000 for Spanish-language programs, and $1,000 for an hour traveling tale.

Bargains in the basement

In downtown Redwood City, people can find great deals on “used” books — and other items like puzzles and comic books — at Encore Books, located in the basement of the museum. of San Mateo County History. Visitors explore four rooms filled with books on nearly every subject. Volunteers show them around or let them wander around on their own. Several changing book displays feature a topical theme (“love” was in February), as well as a board featuring a single subject like history or cooking.

Two rooms are stocked with paperbacks – priced at 50 cents or $1 – and there’s a cozy nook stocked with children’s books so youngsters can explore, read and select their own books.

Volunteers Wally Jansen and BettyJo Fairclough show up most Saturdays to unlock doors and help people find what they’re looking for. Although Encore Books has 30,000 to 40,000 titles crammed on the shelves, Jansen reveals there are more boxes in the back rooms, not to mention some stored at his home because there is no space at Encore.

“Many Saturdays there are people – and often boxes of books – lined up at the doors when we arrive to unlock the doors,” says Fairclough. A five-year volunteer, she commends Jansen on volunteering for 35 years.

Darlynne Wood, who has been a volunteer for even longer, helps on what she calls a “random” basis. His volunteering, in fact, dates back to when the museum was at the College of San Mateo. “One year we had a book sale at Borel Bank in San Mateo,” she says. (The bookstore moved to Redwood City in 1999.)

Encore Books’ operations were also impacted by the pandemic and closed for about six months, a closure that reduced the body of volunteers (many of whom are over 80). However, new volunteers are coming on board, and Jansen and Fairclough hope to open two days a week soon.

For the benefit of the Museum

All money raised by Encore Books goes upstairs to the History Museum. “Before Covid, we were making about $20,000 a year,” Jansen says, “so our goal is to top that very soon.” Typically, most paperbacks at Encore sell for $1, hardcovers for $2-$4, and there are specialty pricing for rare books and classics.

On a recent Saturday, Laura Praszker of Redwood City picked out several books to buy, including one for a friend. Describing herself as a “voracious reader”, she says she probably reads 80 books a year and collects old books like “The Moonstone”. After she finishes reading most of her book purchases, she donates them to the library or SAVERS (a thrift store in Redwood City).

Three middle schoolers from Tierra Linda School in San Carlos were also at Encore looking around. One of them, Ilris Yan, bought a $2 book called “The Master’s Violin”. “I love the classics because it’s like a window into people who lived a long time ago,” she explains.

The Library and Encore stores are accepting books in reasonably good condition, and they also need more volunteers. “If you’re willing to volunteer, we’ll always find a job for you,” says Smith of San Carlos.

For more information about these organizations, see their websites at: amisofrwlibrary.org, scfol.org and historysmc.org.

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