Twisp library book sale restricts resellers
While some shoppers at Twisp’s Friends of the Library book sales are reading first chapters, salivating over recipes, and admiring nature photography, others head first to the bar code on the back of the book. They swipe a handheld scanner across the black-and-white stripes, getting instant feedback about whether the book will be easy to resell.
For the first time, these scanners have been banned at the Labor Day book sale in Twisp this Saturday.
The proliferation of these small scanners and phone apps is a growing phenomenon at book sales, where books priced as low as 25 cents to $1 lure re-sellers who earn a tidy profit by hawking popular books online.
The issue is not with the scanners per se. “We would like community members to have first dibs at finding that book that changes the way they think, or that seems perfect,” said Sharon Cohen, co-president of Friends of the Library.
“We’re all for books being available to other readers anywhere in the world,” Cohen said. But the people who run the sale want to preserve its personal, local character. Volunteers set aside the best children’s books for the Manger Mall, where the books resurface as holiday gifts. They squirrel away special volumes for people who are sick and can’t make it to the sale.
Although scanners have been around for years, it wasn’t until this year’s Memorial Day sale — when two men with scanners filled three boxes with 50 books shortly after the doors opened — that the impact really registered.
Cohen asked one of the men if he’d be willing to wait an hour or two so that local shoppers would get a chance to peruse the offerings. He refused.
Banning the devices wasn’t an easy decision for the Friends of the Library board. After all, the goal of the sale is to raise money for the library, and to get the books into the hands of readers.
But some felt the scanners aren’t in the spirit of the sale, Cohen said. After concluding that restricting scanners to the end of the sale would be too complicated, the board voted unanimously to ban them altogether.
“I was a little taken aback,” board member Jane Weagant said, after she observed people using the scanners at the Memorial Day sale. The men were “a little sneaky,” holding the books and scanners at hip level, she said. One of the men showed her what he was doing after she inquired. “My concern is that they’re going to take the best books, and locals aren’t going to have the opportunity,” Weagant said.
Longtime sale volunteer and avid book lover Sandra Strieby realizes that some people see the sale as a commercial opportunity, not a community event. “But this is a way for things to circulate in the community so everyone can afford new books — it’s a way for others to have access,” she said. When she saw some customers looking things up on their phones, “it seemed to me that that’s not the purpose of the sale,” Strieby said.
Twisp Librarian Dawn Woodruff hadn’t seen book-scanning technology before it cropped up here. “What surprised us is that people thought they would be looking for rare old books and signed copies, but they’re looking for brand-new, very popular hardback books,” Woodruff said.
Proceeds of the sale support the summer reading programs through prizes and gift certificates at local businesses. The money also buys refreshments when the library hosts a special speaker.
So Friends of the Library want to sell as many books as possible. In fact, it costs money to handle unsold books. They pay a community member to take a truckload to the North Central Regional Library (NCRL) warehouse in Wenatchee.
NCRL sells all book-sale leftovers — along with books culled from the library collection — twice a year to a company that sells to used bookstores or online, said Angela Morris, director of public services. NCRL keeps a small amount of money from the sale.
But Friends of the Library book sales are a boon to the branch libraries, increasing participation in summer reading programs, Morris said. About 25 of NCRL’s 30 branch libraries have a friends group. Some even invest in library furniture, and one branch buys a book for every baby born in the community.
“The whole reason we have this super-nice library program for kids, with nice prizes, is because of the sale,” Woodruff said.
Running the sale takes dozens of volunteers, who sort books, load boxes and, when it’s all over, fill a horse trailer with cardboard for recycling. The produce department at Hank’s Harvest Foods collects boxes for the event. The library friends also make a donation to the Liberty Bell High School baseball team, who help load and stack books, and to the Methow Valley Community Center.
Everyone involved with the book sale is committed to keeping the books in circulation. “I’m glad the books get a second — or third or fifth — chance at being read,” Cohen said. Some books are donated back to the sale year after year and snatched up by new valley readers.
“It’s the principle. They’re not cutting into our revenue. We do want them to come, but we want them to compete fairly,” Cohen said. “And we want locals to get a chance.”
The sale draws hundreds of people, who arrive before the doors open to get first crack at thousands of books — as do the pros with scanners. Hardcover books typically go for $1, paperbacks for 50 cents, and kids’ books for 10 to 25 cents. Some special books command higher prices. Shoppers can find books on recreation and travel, language and reference, mind and soul, applied medicine, astronomy and anthropology, fiber arts and home design, and more.
“It’s very exciting to watch the people who come to the sale — they’re just thrilled. It’s better than going to a candy store,” said Weagant, who’s been known to bring a wheeled suitcase to transport her purchases.
“Everyone who walks out of there is so happy with what they found and the deal they got,” Woodruff said.
“We can’t bar booksellers — and don’t want to. These books will find readers,” Cohen said. They just want them to do it without an unfair advantage. “It’s great that they do it — the books get sold.”