On shopping at library book sales

In a comment on the Carnival post of yesterday was the following request for help:

"You're the president of your Friends of the library group, so you seem like the ideal person to ask. This week our city's library is going to have a $3 bag sale on over 60,000 used books. I plan to hit the children's literature section and was wondering if you could offer any tips on how to peruse the books, so that I don't end up wasting time and money on twaddle. Also, besides keeping an eye out for Leo Polleti (spelling?) and Tomie De Paola books, do you have any other suggestions for books?"

My question: what city is this, and is it within reach of my house?

Here are my tips:

1. This book sale is going to be a mad house. If you are a regular patron, you could call up the Friends group today, and ask if they need help setting up tomorrow. Then you can cast a quick eye over the children's section, to see if there are any must haves. There will be a long line on the day of the sale. You can get there two hours early, and be part of the mad dash, or just accept that you won't be the first to see the books. Try to find out before the doors open where exactly in the room the children's books are going to be, so that you can go straight there.

2. Bring your own canvas bags. Don't waste time at the door fumbling for plastic bags that might rip.

3. Many books at library book sales look good on the outside, but are cruddy on the inside. You will not have time to look at each one at first! Grab what strikes your fancy, stuff it in your bag, and keep on until you've at least glanced at the whole section. Then find a "peaceful" place and check the books you've snagged, putting any you don't want neatly away in the right section (please please please). You should then do another perusal of the books, more calmly this time.

4. You ask what books to look out for, which is a tough one. I'm assuming you want them for yourself and your family, so it really depends on how old you all are and what you're interested in. Anything that's won a Newbery or Caldecot award is good, and the gold and silver stickers are easy to spot. However, if you want to really score, try to find the Newbery winners without the sticker!

But I'd suggest just going with the flow, and picking up anything that catches your eye. At $3 a bag, you're not going to go far wrong. And there are many many great books out there that didn't win awards, and which are languishing in undeserved obscurity. You may find some wonderful books that are pretty much unknown. At this price, don't turn up your nose at ex-library books. These were chosen for the library for a reason, and kids don't care if books are in mint condition or not (and anyway, they don't stay mint).

5. You might also consider offering to help clean up the books at the end of the sale. There is always good stuff left over, and it's generally free at this point. However, I've noticed that many libraries are now making blanket arrangements with charitable organizations to have all the books taken away in one fell swoop, which is fine for the library, but not so good for people who want free books.

6. If you still have time and energy on your hands after looking at the children's books, you could look around the rest of the sale for books to take in to your local used book store for trade credit (which is about twice as much as they would give you in cash). Look for unusual-ish non fiction, and beware of book club editions.

I hope this advice is useful! Anyone with more advice, please share it!


  1. Thank You so much for your great advice. This book sale is taking place in the southern most tip of Texas in the city of McAllen which is way out of range for most people reading this, I'm sure :) I'm going to take your suggestion of volunteering in the days leading up to the event. I have connections through our community garden, which is how I found out about the sale. Thanks again. I'll let you know how it turns out.

  2. I have an annual sale I go to, due in a few weeks time, and my strategy is similar:
    1 - grab everything remotely intersting and throw in bag
    2 - second sweep, this time go a little more slowly and add to your collection but slightly less frenetic than first time
    3 - slow and measured and I guarantee you will find stuff you have missed the first two sweeps
    4 - sit in corner and go through everything carefully, preferably with a cup of coffee/tea if it is provided. make your choice
    5 - yes put discarded books back in the right place!
    good luck


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