Laying siege to your local library

Penny seller crouches on a hoard of booksMake no mistake, in the world of books, there is no idyllic indian summer. No lazy dog days’ afternoons. No sweet corn harvest. No last minute dash to the coast. For this is the beginning of the Library Sale Wars. This is the time that tries the souls of booklovers. The violent forge of destiny. The separation of the wheat from the… ahem. Hyperbole aside, those who’ve attended library sales – and lived to tell the tale – know exactly what I mean.

So, in preparation for your meeting with destiny, I have prepared for you 5 tried and true battle tactics to help guarantee yourself the lion’s share of the spoils, all distilled from observing real life heroes on the fields of glory:

  1. Enlist a very large person to help. Ideally this person should (arms and legs expanded) span the majority of a four foot shelf, and be the classic “immoveable object.” In a pinch, you can substitute two medium sized lovers with a propensity to keep one hand in the back pocket of the other at all times. The important thing is to secure the territory as quickly and effectively as possible, preventing anyone else from seeing the books. Since you’ll arm them with a barcode scanner, they don’t need to know anything about books, just need to be big, dumb and willing – like Lennie from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Block, scan, pick. Next shelf. Block, scan, pick.
  2. Have many kids, or hire a kindergarten class for the day. They’re light, quick, good at knocking people off balance, causing headaches, and occasionally charming a would-be formidable foe’s attention away from the stacks. If you can get some younger ones who aren’t quite potty-trained, all’s the better. Read Oliver Twist, and study the great Master Fagin for inspiration.
  3. Go for the scatter shot approach. Indiscriminately grab all you can as fast as you can so that you can squat on your can for the rest of the sale in the corner with your cellphone scanner and mountain of books . Don’t forget you must cast alternatively furtive, hostile, and baleful looks at people who come near your pile. Hissing helps. To achieve the proper affectation, I suggest studying literary characters such as Gollum, Ebeneezer Scrooge, and the Thénardiers from Les Miserables.
  4. Volunteer to help in advance of the sale. This is the classic Trojan Horse tactic. They’ll love you, adore you for the help you provide. And, when they’re least suspecting, you can comb through before the sale and stick all of the best “scores” on the business books shelf. When the doors open, everyone will laugh at you as you scurry off to explore old copies of Dale Carnegie and Napolean Hill, but you’ll be the one laughing as you surreptitiously box up your signed first edition of Blood Meridian. I can’t think of a literary character to inspire you off-hand, but I can imagine that Dante has a few spares floating around somewhere in his Inferno.
  5. Using your boxes, construct battlements at either end of the aisle. Naturally, the hordes will immediately begin to lay siege to your fortress, but you can often forestall the waves by hurling book club editions in their general direction, under the pretense of “tossing them into your boxes.” Another, more clever way of holding your outer walls is this: amass a small collection of boring modern first editions like How to Make an American Quilt or The Bridges of Madison County and place them in the top boxes (which are left seductively half-open). The scanner people are particularly taken by these; they’re shiny, and the barcode scanner says the average price is high (by their standards), but you happen to know that nobody ever actually buys that stuff. Should buy you enough time to go for the real booty. Be warned, though, you’ll actually have to know something about books to pull this one off….

Seriously though, these things are a bloodbath, and libraries are hemorrhaging potential revenue (and patron good will) unless they start reforming. So, here are some ideas for friends of the library organizations to reform and run a more efficient, profitable, and fair sale for everyone. Some libraries take advantage of some of these, but not all:

  1. Ban the use of cellphones, scanners and price lookup devices on the premises.  Or, perhaps ban them at least until the final day of the sale.
  2. Institute a pay by the box as you go policy. No more piles of boxes with blankets wrapped around them and wary people standing guard. You take one box, fill it up, and pay. Then you get another box and do the same. Meanwhile, all boxes left unattended (blankets or no) are subject to being immediately reshelved.
  3. Open the sale for a preview night, charge an admission fee, and let people select no more than 25 books. For these books, they put in a sealed envelope bid. No one can simply purchase on preview night. This helps the library get a better price for potentially valuable books that have been overlooked. Winning bidder gets the book.
  4. Enlist a local bookseller to assist with pricing on higher end books. To make it worth their while, and avoid conflicts of interest, offer to pay them a small commission on sales of all those books at the conclusion of the sale.
  5. Don’t make all the stock immediately available when the sale opens. Too many libraries do this, and must resort to $1 bag pricing on subsequent days. Make your inventory as good for the people coming on the third day as on the first. This lets the sale maintain price integrity.

As I say, just a couple of ideas for friends of the library groups to consider.  I’d love to hear any others people may have, or if you know of a library that’s doing a good job with balancing revenues and patron goodwill.  Its been years since I’ve been able to endure a library booksale, but would love to return some day when they look a little less like the Gaza strip.

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