6 Things I Learned Shopping at Library Book Sales

library sale
Wherein I gain a new appreciation for library book sales…

Library sales are full of all kinds of awesomeness. You never know what you’re going to find and the place will be chock full of your fellow book lovers. I’m pretty new to library sales and am still learning the ropes. But I can share a few things that I’ve picked up so far.

1. Most of what’s being sold is donated to the library, not from the library’s circulation.

If you’re worried about the books being old and crusty, don’t be. The volunteers who run the sales will make sure that the books sold are in decent shape. And the fact the books come from any number of donors means that the offering of books will be pretty diverse. So it’s almost always worth it to check out a library sale.

2. Despite the low prices, these sales do earn real money for the library.

I attended a sale at a library in Pennsylvania where the volunteers mentioned they were $800 away from earning one million dollars over the life of the sale. They reached their million dollar target the same day I was at the sale. When the target was reached, they announced it to the room and held a mini celebration, awarding the man who spent the millionth dollar balloons and a plastic lei. That money is going to help the library buy books and offer services to the community. So keep in mind, even if you only spend a dollar, every little bit helps.

3. Don’t ignore the non-fiction.

I read fiction almost exclusively. I usually just can’t get into non-fiction books. Because of that, I tend to spend very little time at these sales looking at the non-fiction selection. But there are books available on almost subject: gardening, economics, the military, crafts, and even law books. My sister found some knitting books by very popular authors that still retail for upwards of thirty dollars each. She paid One Dollar per book. You can’t beat that with a stick.

4. You really can find hidden gems.

I’m speaking both in terms of monetary value and sentimental value. At one sale I found several books that had been signed by their respective authors, which is always a fun surprise. At another sale my sister found an unopened boxed set of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The box was brand new, still wrapped in plastic. That won’t always be the case, but you can get lucky.

5. You’ll be competing with pro book sellers.

Ye shall know them by their scanners. There are a lot of people who purchase books at library sales in order to resell them online. The resellers tend to have scanners they use to learn the Amazon sales rank and selling price of the books they scan. (Some libraries will ban the use of scanners during the first hour of the sale.) I don’t have an issue with resellers in principle, I just wouldn’t like to see a book I want be purchased by someone who would then sell it to me at a much higher price. I’ve never had a run-in with a reseller, but just know that they’re there looking for many of the same books you are.

6. Go early, stay late.

Obviously, library sales operate on a “first come, first serve” basis. If you’re looking for a particular book, you have a better chance of getting it if you’re one of the first people at the sale. The bigger sales will have a line starting 20-30 minutes before the doors open. But there’s also a benefit to being one of the last people at a library sale. Many libraries will sell books-by-the-bag on the last day of the sale. Usually during the last hour or two on the last day, you can buy a bag full of books for $5, or sometimes even less.

Attending library sales has pretty much become my new hobby. If you’re lucky enough to live in a community that hosts library sales, make sure to go at least once. You’ll probably find at least one good book, and you’ll be helping your local library.

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