ITHACA, NY -- The joys of the summer seem to begin with the Friends of the Library Sale (FOL) on May 1. It has felt like a tradition in Ithaca because the Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library was first formed in 1946. According to FOL, the Book Sale idea came from a volunteer who was thinking of how this informal organization could help the library. The first Book Sale was one year later, and was initially held at the library. After 74 years, the sale has grown and will now have over 2.4 miles of books and 12,810 feet of bookshelves for the May sale event.
In this interview Kathy Weinberg, coordinator of the Friends of the Tompkins County Library answers questions about the upcoming library sale.
Ithaca Times: It has taken over four months to gather the adult and children’s books, records, magazines, maps, movies, and rare books, and arrange it all in just over two miles of bookshelves. What can you tell us about the volunteers, the time it takes to organize it all in what is still a pandemic, and what you want people to know about this sale?
Kathy Weinberg: What can we say about our volunteers? They are the best on the planet! We have over 150 active volunteers. They have been accepting mountains of donated books in the blazing heat of summer and the frigid cold of an Ithaca winter. Our "rough sorters" make an initial decision on where every donated book goes, placing them in one of our 80 categories. Then our many "category sorters" take a closer look at the books in their section, deciding which to shelve and which to hold in our storage area for restocking during the Sale. We restock every morning before our doors open, every evening after closing, and on days during the week when we're closed. That means you can find "new" books in your favorite sections every time you shop during the Sale.
Our volunteers also work at the Sale itself, staffing our "pricer" and "cashier" functions in 4 shifts every day of the Sale. A separate staff handles sales in our Collector's Corner, which has slightly shorter sale hours (check at www.booksale.org). We will again be staffing our Information Desk at key times during the day to help you find the books you want.
During the pandemic we have instituted rules to keep our volunteers widely separated and to limit their time in the building. Anne Neirynck, one of our Co-Coordinators, has used her nurse practitioner experience to help develop the COVID-19 rules and procedures that have allowed us to work at our Esty Street building safely. She also helped lots of our volunteers find vaccination appointments when those were scarce.
Volunteering at the Book Sale is a labor of love for the many folks who help us organize and run our Sales; 150 volunteers worked over 7,000 hours to get ready for this Spring Sale. They are people who like books and getting people connected with books they might like. If that describes you, too, please look into volunteering. One of the best things about volunteering at the Sale is being able to swap book recommendations with your fellow volunteers.
IT: Can you talk about the special display of maps for this Sale? And how that began for FOL?
KW: Thanks to a very generous donation from the United States Geological Survey, we have thousands of New York State maps, in various scales, and map-related activities for this Sale. We'll also have books about hiking, geocaching, orienteering, maps, other outdoor activities, and map-themed jigsaw puzzles and games.
The USGS maps are topographic maps, depicting terrain using contour lines to indicate elevation. The USGS began mapping the whole country in 1988. Work began in New York State in 1888 and was completed in the 1920s. The USGS made revisions and updates until 1992, when the United States had been comprehensively mapped.
The collection donated to the Friends covers almost all of New York State, with excellent coverage of the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, and Central New York. To find out more about the maps, contact Julee Johnson, FOL volunteer, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just come explore them at the Sale.
Mass market paperbacks used to be in the front of the store but have now moved to Aisle 1, the "general fiction" aisle. We still have just as many Mass Market books, but now you can browse them in bookcases.
IT: It seems that the children’s section, middle grade, and fantasy areas have grown. What would you like to add that is special about this sale for parents and their children?
KW: We received several donations for this sale of hundreds of children’s and young adult books from local teachers who recently retired. Thus, those sections have even more books than usual to offer. In the Children’s Corner, the picture books, humor, mystery, fantasy, and science fiction sections (all lower
priced Category B and C books) are overflowing. We have almost a full book case of Hardy Boys mysteries and several shelves of Nancy Drew mysteries. The Young Adult section offers mainly Category A books in general fiction as well as fantasy series and stand-alone fantasy and several shelves of historical fiction. The shelves are well-stocked with other categories of books, including adventure, romance, short stories and memoirs.
IT: What are the dates for the May Book Sale? And will there be a limit on how many people can enter the Regina Lennox Book Sale Building on Esty Street during the book sale?
KW: The Sale will be open three long weekends, May 1-3, 8-10, and 15-18, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. We have been continually adapting our rules and procedures to keep our volunteers and customers safe since we reopened for donations last year, shortly before our first "pandemic-era" sale in July 2020. We’re looking forward to good weather for the Spring Sale and will have all the front doors open as much as possible to maximize our air circulation, including the big garage doors.
We will continue to be conservative in limiting occupancy for the book sales. As long as the number of Covid cases remains low in Tompkins County, we’re planning to admit 80 customers at a time for the May Sale. We will keep all Covid precautions in place, including requiring masks that cover the nose and mouth, maintaining 6 feet social distance for everyone in the building, and asking patrons to sort and count their own books when they check out.
Almost 100% of our volunteers will be fully vaccinated before the Sale starts, so we can increase the Sale staffing, which means that we can return to our traditional hours of 10 am through 8 pm. On the first Saturday, May 1 only, shoppers may buy up to 50 items each time they pass through checkout, although they are welcome to join the line and re-enter the building to buy another 50 items as many times as they wish. There are no purchase limits on all the other sale days. We will also be able to again offer a Senior and Persons with Disabilities Day on Wednesday, May 12, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., as everyone was very pleased to see that tradition return in our Fall 2020 Sale.