Letters to The Editor
Two Viewpoints on
Friends of the Library (FOL) Sales

#92, 16 April 2007

Hi, Craig,

I just read Steve Weber's article "Will Technology Kill the FOL Sale?" and I wanted to comment. I live just outside a very large metro area and inside of two hours to another very large metro area. As you can probably imagine, there are many, many FOL sales to be found here. There are usually 3-5 in reasonably short driving distance on any given weekend. Thanks to sites like Book Sale Finder, everyone is finding these sales. I have no problem with that. The technology use though is a problem at the smaller sales. I wanted to tell you about two recent experiences.

The first sale was a very small sale of 1,500 books. It started at 1:00 pm Friday afternoon. For whatever reason it was scheduled to run until 5:00 pm, reopen Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and have a $2.00 bag day on Sunday ... as if there would be any of 1.500 books left. The sale was to be held in a meeting room area of a very large library. I arrived at 12:30 to find 30+ people in line for this little sale. They would not let any sale attendees into the library for fear of disturbing the "regular" patrons. I thought about leaving, but then I thought, how bad could it be? Well, it was very bad! They only used one meeting room. It was about 15 feet square, I kid you not! It was total pandemonium on entry. Dealers threw coats over entire tables. People were crawling under tables to get past people guarding the couple of little aisles. In the midst of it all were two dealers trying to scan books. Good luck! I got 8 nice looking books in the history section in about 10 minutes of clawing my way past people and got the heck out to pay. As I looked behind me I saw at least 50 people crammed into this tiny little room, all holding a stack of hardbacks as though their very lives depended on it. I don't think the two guys scanning had a prayer. What were they thinking at such a small sale?

The next sale I went to promised 10,000 books. It was in a very, very small community. I took my business partner. She had never been to one of these. I tried to prepare her for what to expect. We got there about 15 minutes before the doors opened to find perhaps 120-150 people in line. A lot of people, obviously locals, brought their children, including babies in strollers. I looked at my friend and I told her that this was going to be ugly. She said I was being a pessimist. I just gave her my wait-and-see look. The doors opened and in we went. The sale was in 3 rooms and the back half of a narrow hallway. The front half of said narrow hallway was the checkout area. The hardback room was total bedlam. I installed her next to a bare spot of wall with a box and told her I would drop things in it and just to guard it. I managed to snag two very nice sets of books and a few more hardbacks in a tour of the room - or at least the areas I could get to. There was a young woman in one corner scanning children's books very slowly. She must have been getting paid by the hour and not by the book. She wasn't finding much. When I got back to my partner, she was fending off a dealer with a scanner who was ogling my box. I shooed him away. She told me he was the third one to have a go at my box. She was in shock. I told her, "Take the box to the hallway; I'll meet you there in a few minutes. I'm going to the 'better books' room."

The better books room must have looked very nice when it was first set up. It looked like they had neatly displayed everything. Books were flat on the tables rather than spine up. It was a long narrow room - perhaps 30 feet - that was probably actually a storage area. They laid tables end to end and there was just enough room to either side for two people to squeeze past each other. Of course, no one was allowed to move past anyone else lest they get something first! There were gentlemen on each side of the table scanning. I managed to snag two books near the front that the scanning crew did not seem to think were worthy and then I gave up on that room. I poked my head into the paperback room but I couldn't get into it. I found my friend in the hallway only to have to go through checkout-line hell with people trying to squeeze past to get around the abandoned strollers, around the dealers scanning in the hall, in an effort to get from room to room. On top of it all, the checkout system was very awkward. Books had to be counted and totaled at one table and then paid for at another. This was not, of course, posted so people were scrambling every which way and shouting that they were here first and so forth. It was horrible.

In both of these cases, dealers hoarding books and scanning them made things difficult for those of us who move fast and work on wit, but they made the experience for the "regular" FOL sale patrons terrible. What I see happening if the scanners aren't banned at the small sales is a loss of the patrons who would come and buy from the local community. That could have very serious impact on those same patron's future donations.

I think libraries do need to set "Rules of Engagement" at the FOL sales. Further, I think these rules need to be posted not only at the sale, but also on the library's site (if any) and on Book Sale Finder, as you suggested. It's sad that we have come to this over what used to be a nice, civil, community event. Gone are the days when we could chit-chat with the volunteers about the books we chose, and here are the days when they tiniest FOL sales attract mega-sellers with no manners at all who are only looking for a fast profit.

Thanks for listening, Craig!

Michelle Shemenske

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