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An Amazing Used Booksale

For many years, I have volunteered at a huge used booksale.  It takes place in Princeton, New Jersey and bills itself as one of the largest used booksales on the east coast.  This year was the 89th Annual Bryn-Mawr/Wellesley Booksale.  Pretty amazing right there.  All proceeds go towards scholarships for local students to Bryn Mawr and Wellesley Colleges.


The organization rents space at a private school (which is on spring break in March) and fills an entire gym, an entire lunchroom, and a third, multi-purpose room space with books that have been collected in the community over the course of the year.  This year, estimated to be about 90,000 books.  Every year, the booksale starts fresh – no books are saved from one year to the next.  It is amazing to realize that this many books are donated in one year’s time…and it happens every year.

I prefer to work during the setup days (although have in the past worked some time during the selling days).  There is a drop-off location in town where books are sorted into boxes by category and, as they are filled, the boxes are brought over to storage facilities, with more and more facilities rented as the year progresses.  During the setup days, a moving company brings in the boxes and places them at the tables of those categories and volunteers unpack and setup the books.  Some categories are priced and others go for default pricing (generally $2 paperback and $3 hardcover).

For many years, I have been in charge of the Hobbies category.  It is quite the catch-all.  There are books on needlework, yes.  Knitting, quilting, sewing, sure.  But it is also art and drawing.  Games and puzzles (think chess and Sudoku).  Collecting (think trains or coins).  And a whole lot more.  I try to lay out the tables I’ve been given (which range from 2 1/2 to 4 tables) each year in some semblance of order.  Meaning, all the art and drawing together, all the needlework together, etc.

So, there’s the background.  Let’s talk about this year and the reality of the world.  All the work throughout the year, all the expenses for the storage and moving and such.  The school where this was taking place had serious misgivings about so many people gathering in one place at this time.  The organizers moved up the starting date (normally a Friday) by one day (to Thursday), feeling the concern.  Then, during the setup, on the Tuesday, came the final word from the school:  they wanted us (i.e. the booksale organization) out by Friday.  Close the sale by 3pm.  That meant only two days for the sale, and not even full days, and neither of them being weekend times.  They also wanted all remaining books and supplies and everything cleared out by 5pm on that Friday.  The idea was making sure there was enough time to clean and sanitize the school before it was needed again.  (although, as is the case everywhere, the school ended up closing like all others and students didn’t go back after the spring break was over.)

In the full spirit of working together that has been going on in so many spheres these days, volunteers kept at their setups and the sale did indeed open on Thursday.  The first day is typically for dealers and has always had an admission fee.  A lot of the money is raised on that day, typically nearly half of the total sales.  This year, the dealers came out in full force, supporting the organization, the change in day, the realization of the challenges.  Even though the sale was only open for five hours on Friday, there was a steady stream of the general public.  And, at 3pm, everyone went into full on work mode.   There were a number of books that were packed up to be saved for next year’s sale (the 90th!).  An organization from Baltimore sent two trucks which were fully packed up with books.  They will eventually be sold online and the profits go toward some good charities.   The remaining ones were picked up by a local organization that will also put them to good use in some way.  No books in the dumpster, as some had feared!

Expenses were covered, small donations will be made to the colleges, and it looks like everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that the booksale will live on to see another year.  Let’s hope for a phenomenal sale for next year!

You can learn more about the booksale at the website

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