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How Do They Do It? Five Glorious Days Of The Book Sale, 365 Days In The Making

Published: June 17, 2019 at 07:00 am

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The Friends of the C.H. Booth Library (Friends) annual Book Sale is one of the most anticipated events of the summer, with people coming from near and far to find treasures throughout the more than 120,000 books, CDs, DVDs, and LPs available.

This year, the Book Sale is celebrating its 44th year and is scheduled to take place at Reed Intermediate School, 3 Trades Lane, from Saturday, July 13 to Wednesday, July 17.

But what goes into making one of the largest book sales in New England happen?

The Newtown Bee recently visited the Friends’ sorting room to get a special behind-the-scenes peak at what goes into turning thousands of boxes and bags of donated goods into an organized book/media wonderland.

Where It All Began

Friends President Kay Kiernan Brix says the Book Sale had very humble beginnings compared to what it is today.

Book Sale Founder Joanne Zang was a patron of C.H. Booth Library when she was inspired to help raise funds for the public library. She decided to set up a card table in front of the library on Main Street during the Labor Day Parade in 1975 and sold the library’s discarded items for 25 cents each. By the end of the day, she had collected a total of $35.

The sale soon expanded to a tent behind the library and later relocated to the former Bridgeport Hall (now Newtown Municipal Center) in Fairfield Hills, before moving to the air-conditioned Reed Intermediate School roughly a decade ago.

Each year on opening day, the line of people builds outside to the point where it stretches from the entrance of the school down the length of the building to the road.

Everyone — patrons and volunteers alike — awaits in anticipation for the doors to open and when the moment arrives, a sea of book-lovers pour into the lobby, with many individuals eagerly branching off from the pack at a breakneck pace.

In 2018, the Book Sale drew an opening-day crowd of nearly 1,600 paying adult attendees. That number doesn’t include children, who are admitted for free.

Volunteering

To ensure such a massive event has everything in order during its five-day span, more than 100 volunteers help at the Book Sale.

Volunteers provide customer assistance every step of the way, from making book recommendations to guiding patrons to the different rooms that items are in. Members of the Newtown High School’s girls field hockey team, the soccer team, and the cheerleaders also pitch in and volunteer their time and labor on moving day.

Leading up to the Book Sale, there are roughly 60 individuals who volunteer year-round to evaluate the hundreds of thousands of donations that come in.

“That includes snowbirds, people who put puzzles together at home, the volunteers who help do The Little Book Store downstairs, and those who help with listings online,” Friends Chair Denise Kaiser explained. The puzzle volunteers are needed to ensure that every puzzle sold is complete, she pointed out. Games are also checked to make sure all pieces are included before being offered for sale.

Most volunteers work in the Friends sorting room of the library, where there are stacks of books in boxes, on shelves, spread out on tables — all methodically being organized by volunteers who have their designated section to categorize, price, box, and move items into storage.

Rare books are sent to be evaluated by the Friends’s expert, and hot ticket items are added to The Little Book Store inventory or sold online.

When someone is interested in becoming a new volunteer with Friends, they get a training session at the library and the opportunity to work with Ms Kaiser for a few hours to get the lay of the land.

“After that it becomes clear what their interests are, what their capabilities are, and whether this is the right volunteer fit for them,” Ms Kaiser said.

People tend to gravitate to the area they personally enjoy best and offer their skills there.

“Someone who is very well read in the classics might work with Kay Brix, who is our president,” she said. “Someone who has a spiritual side might work with Jack Hickey-Williams, who oversees religion; and someone who is strong like Bill [Bentham] or John [Keegan] might help us with moving boxes and taking care of our storage facility.”

‘The Heart And Soul’

Just as every piece of a puzzle is important when creating a finished product, every job with Friends is crucial towards producing the annual Book Sale.

“We have the best volunteers in town,” Ms Kaiser said. “They’re outstanding.”

Claudia Dapp, a retired elementary school teacher, has been volunteering with Friends since 2014.

“It’s the greatest place to be,” she says of the group.

Ms Dapp’s focus in the sorting room is organizing the different genres of small paperbacks and separating them by author.

“They go from me to Stan Gingolaski in the back, and he takes the next step to separate them alphabetically,” she explained.

Near Ms Dapp’s section is fellow sorter Jo Andersen, who has been volunteering with the Friends for more than five years, since she retired and moved back to the area.

“It really is wonderful. I love this,” Ms Andersen said of helping with Friends. “I recommend volunteering to everybody… It’s hard work, but it’s very rewarding.”

One of her greatest joys is the feeling of being able to recommend a new book or author to someone at the Book Sale. Some, she says, have even found her at the sale the following year and thanked her for her suggestions.

While many may think of the paperback and hardcover books at the sale, there are a substantial amount of CDs, DVDs, and audiobooks available for purchase — all of which go to longtime volunteer Julie Starkweather for assessing.

With a disc resurfacing machine, she inspects, buffs, and tests all media to make sure there is no damage. For higher value items, she oversees selling DVDs and audiobooks online through Amazon.

Newtown student Brian Smith has been helping Ms Starkweather for six years by coming in on Saturdays to continue the process.

“I’m lucky to have him,” Ms Starkweather said.

Also lending her assistance is Laura Smolen, who has been volunteering with Friends for about a year. Once Ms Starkweather has assessed the media, Ms Smolen is in charge of boxing the items and shipping them out through the post office.

Ms Smolen said she was inspired to start volunteering with Friends not only for her love of books, but also to give back to the community. The sentiment is shared with many of the volunteers, including longtime resident Scott Gellis, who has been volunteering with Friends since January of this year.

After recently retiring, he wanted to find a way to help the C.H. Booth Library, because he feels it is a tremendous resource for the community.

Coming from a technical background, Mr Gellis said, “I have responsibility for categories of engineering and electronics; I have shared ownership of science and computers.”

He researches items online to see if it is something that can sell and, if so, at what price.

Having been volunteering for six months, he says he already sees how rewarding being part of Friends is for him and others.

“It’s a good group of people who care about what they are doing,” Mr Gellis said.

Another recent retiree in the sorting room is self-proclaimed book addict Bill Bentham, who has been volunteering for about a year.

Mr Bentham shares responsibilities with six-year volunteer John Keegan as warehouse workers. The two men are in charge of manually stacking boxes full of books onto pushcarts, loading those boxes into their vehicles, transporting the books to storage facilities in town, and then returning to the library with the empty boxes for the process to repeat, all of which is done multiple times a day.

“These volunteers are the heart and soul of the Book Sale,” Ms Brix said. “Without them, none of this would be possible.”

Starting From Scratch

At the end of every Book Sale, all the remaining items are given away and a hired company goes in to clean up the school. The process causes the Friends to start from scratch for next year’s sale.

While donations are accepted year-round, with no cut-off date of when they accept them, any items offered to the Friends during the Book Sale in July are held for the following sale.

Ms Kaiser recommends that those who have donations for the sale hold off scheduling their drop off until early August.

“We never turn anything away — or any person or book or album or CD away,” she adds. This is so because every donation counts.

According to the Friends, “Money raised underwrites grants in support of library materials, programs, and special endeavors benefiting patrons to augment town funding so that [the] library has resources to go above and beyond baseline taxpayer support.”

The 2019 Book Sale is scheduled to take place at Reed Intermediate School, 3 Trades Lane, July 13-17. Opening day is Saturday, from 9 am to 5 pm, and requires a $5 admission (those 18 and under are free); Sunday is from 9 am to 5 pm; Monday is from 9 am to 7 pm with everything half price; Tuesday is from 9 am to 7 pm with $5 to fill bags provided by the Friends; and Wednesday is from 9 am to noon, when everything is free. For more information, visit boothbooksale.org or e-mail boothbooksale@yahoo.com.

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