Featured Article: From Boxes to Bookshelves

From Boxes to Bookshelves: How Donated Books are Sorted and Sold
by Phil Coleman

The Friends of the Davis Library receives thousands of books yearly as tax-deductible donations.  These many books have to be first sorted by quality, popularity, and topic.

Three internal destinations are part of this routing process. Some books are deemed “library worthy,” very good condition, a recent best seller or are popular with the readership that patronizes the Davis Library in particular. Those books go into that system where they are stacked accordingly by library staff.

The two remaining stakeholders are within the Friends of the Davis Library domain. Friends has held bi-monthly book sales for decades, the iconic event of the organization. Judgments are rendered on which books are most appropriate for the periodic weekend book sales.

Two years ago, another retail opportunity for Friends emerged. The Board purchased the Logos book store site on 2nd Street. Keeping the name and retaining some of the volunteer staff for continuity, the store became an unqualified success as an additional and ongoing retail outlet for used books. Overall book sales doubled with no negative impact on the bi-monthly sales. All proceeds after expenses go the Yolo County Library.

Some books are beyond repair but still have value. They are recycled, converted into paper pulp and used to make more books. Books that can be salvaged are put into a container for the Book Menders to repair to distribute to one of the three display options.

The volunteers who do this initial book sorting are creatively called sorters. Sorters do a remarkable job of being the “traffic cop” for which book goes where for maximum potential for sale and equity in distribution. The physical location for the sorters is a room in the south wing of the main library and contains numerous boxes and stacks of yet-to-be-sorted books, along with categorized boxes awaiting the next mass book sale. 

Literature began when somebody long ago etched something on the wall of a cave. Since then humankind has documented every real and imaginable thought and action for millions of years. It’s a daunting task to divide these into specific categories.

 From long experience, the volunteer sorters have divided the vast field of literature into  26 distinct literary categories, from history, music, and art to current fiction, non-fiction and current events. Past book sales and Library check-out records give sorters a feel for what books are to be put into a particular outlet for the reading community.

Moving now to the Logos Used Book Store and the arrival of categorized boxes of books in the Store’s back room. This utility and storage area has numerous shelves marked and divided by literary category. Now we meet another specialist sorter, the Area Experts. 

The Experts make up this volunteer group under the direction of the Logos Acquisitions Manager. We have over a dozen categories, with multiple experts in some categories who work as a team. Expert status is achieved by a life-time of exposure in some  professional/academic/literary background in a specific area. These men and women have three critical responsibilities; pricing, prioritizing, and shelf maintenance.

At least once weekly, an Area Expert will come into the Back Room and survey the recent arrival of received books for his/her category. The Expert will pencil a book value on the first inner book page. The Expert inspects the available space in the Store’s bookshelves for that literary topic. New books replace sold ones. If a book has languished for a while with no takers the Expert will remove it and replace it with a fresh book. Then the Expert tidies up his/her turf making sure the shelf has an appealing appearance and the books are stacked correctly.

What about the many other books, the duplicates, unappreciated, and those where we have no room to display at the Logos Store? Sorters again render verdicts, some  books are put out in the Friends bi-monthly Book Sale. But even those books that don’t sell at either retail location, don’t go to waste. We have a contract with a vendor (World Wide Books) who buys our books in bulk. These books are shipped to many nations with English-speaking populations.



Book Menders: The Skill That Nobody Knows About
by Phil Coleman

Any volunteer organization doing a public service–for it to be effective and enduring–must have three crucial elements. The volunteers must work as a team, be willing to do their tasks eagerly and dependably, and agree to laugh a lot while doing it. The perfect blend of these components is rare, as any volunteer leader will tell you.

Meet a group of 9 volunteers who excel at all three volunteer criteria. Having virtually no turnover, they work a full day every week with attendance nearly 100%. They can’t recruit new volunteers for their mission as they have no room to seat them. They are part of the larger volunteer network that is the Friends of the Davis Library.

These are the Book Menders and their job title says it all. Working out of a Library annex room they take injured and neglected books and return them (almost) to their original glory and beauty. On average the book menders redeem 180 books per work session, which are then put into circulation in the library or sold at the Friends Book Sales and Logos Book Store downtown.

Here’s a sample of how the Menders can bring a book back to life:

How good are they and how do they do it? Well, given enough time a skilled mender could duplicate an original book so well that you could not tell the difference between the two. Some of the menders have done it.

The Book Menders are funded by proceeds gained from used book sales and they purchase special glues and other adhesives, cutting and pressing instruments, book cover cardboard and coverings. Even the special string, used in the original book construction that nobody notices, is a purchase item available from publishers and binders.

The Friends Book Menders have been around since 1985. The Mender’s Founding Mother, Peggy Epstein, has been allowed to honorably retire as she is about to reach the Century Mark.