Last fall’s library book sale was incredibly educational for me. I had never realized before how the searching process felt so much like a politely tense dance routine. Still, the points below could spell the difference between getting your hands on that volume by your favorite author and watching a quicker, more aware buyer snatch it up, leaving you to weep over your misfortune among the crates of children’s books.
Get there early:
The early bird gets the best worms by waiting outside the building 5-10 minutes before the doors open. You’ll find you’re not the only one who knows the truth of this, since there may be half a dozen other bibliophiles hanging around for opening time. This is a good time to make polite small talk with your fellow readers (see points 1 & 10) rather than stand around staring awkwardly at the ground. It’s also a good way to meet people who are into books.
Leave plenty of time to browse:
Leave at least 30 min. – 1 hour to book hunt, depending on the size of the room, number of shoppers, and number of books for sale. Your schedule may only allow you 30 or 45 minutes to browse, but make the best of it. You might even plan to return at a later time (preferably before the 4:00 or 5:00 rush from work) or the next day if you have to. But remember the best deals are often found early in the morning, soon after the sale has begun. At least this is what I have found to be true, though I’m sure there are still some good deals lying about in the later hours and days of the event.
Leave purse at home:
Purses are a pain to juggle when you’re trying to maneuver around tables, stacks of books, and moving people. If you can, exchange your everyday purse for something more compact, even if you only have room for your driver’s license, keys, debit card, and some cash. A digital camera pouch would be an ideal size for this purpose. That or, heaven forbid, a fanny pack. Just make sure it won’t get in your way.
Act like an adult:
When the doors are opened, don’t rush in, pushing and running to get your hands on the best books, which take time and patience to find anyway. Start off right by establishing a good rapport with your fellow readers, perhaps by holding the door for some of them or bidding them good morning; you will need their cooperation for this adventure, as you will soon see.
(Remember the candy shop scene from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory? Yeah, don’t do that.)
Evaluate the setup:
Once inside, evaluate the setup of the room. My last book sale consisted of several tables stacked high with books, plus dozens of boxes under the tables and pressed against the walls. I knew I had several areas to browse, so I planned to begin with the tables of adult fiction/non-fiction (the tables were sort of organized), then move on to the children’s/juvenile section, and finish with the boxes. As I worked around the other early birds, searching for the treasures among the trash, I noted where people were and which tables had yet to be explored.
Just keep digging:
If you see books on top that aren’t your style, don’t give up. The best treasures are often hidden somewhere toward the middle or bottom of a stack. A lot of people judge the tables and stacks by what books are on top and so miss a lot of great finds. Also, people assume all the books are sorted by subject, but they are not. I have found classical literature mashed in with trashy romance novels and in the juvenile fiction. Remember too that people may pick up a book that looks interesting, intending to buy it, but change their minds later, laying it down wherever they are at the point of decision. Even if the volumes are fairly well-organized to start with, within the first 10-20 minutes, at least a few of the books have been relocated this way.
If you have thoroughly searched all the tables, or if other searchers are temporarily blocking all of the tables you haven’t reached yet, head for the boxes. Unless there are none, in which case you may re-examine a table or flip through the books in your hands until a spot opens at the uninspected table(s).
If there too many books to display at waist level with the rest, there will often be boxes of books on the floor, either along a wall or under the tables. Be sure to check these out, because a lot of folks forget they are there. That, they think books in cardboard boxes look like junk and prematurely decide the crates hold nothing of value, or they feel ridiculous getting on their hands and knees (especially if they are dressed nicely) to dig through a box of battered books.
If you have searched all of the tables and boxes, you might ask the staff if there are any other sale books set up elsewhere. Sometimes part of another room is dedicated to the sale, especially if the main room is small. However, the rest of the sale may not even be in the same building; at one sale I attended, the library’s boxes of books were spread out to the front porch of some apartments next door. I imagine it had been worked out between the owner/renters and librarian, but it was a place I would not have thought to look!
Remember where you’ve been:
With all the shifting of books and people that naturally attends a sale like this, try to remember which areas you have searched. It will decrease you frustration and multiply your efficiency in covering all the areas that interest you.
If you find part of a series, look for the rest:
At my first library book sale, I found one of the books from the Anne of Green Gables series. I was stoked! Then I wondered, Could the others be here, too? I dug around a bit, and lo and behold, I discovered all but one of the books in the set! (I have since located that missing work and the collection is once again complete.) The books may or may not be laid out together, but there’s a good chance they’re fairly close to each other.
Don’t crowd the other buyers:
A person can feel when you’re hovering, in a hurry, or moving forcefully (even just steadily) into her territory, defined as the table she’s at or at the next table near them. This is a dangerous and destructive move on your part because it makes her feel rushed and defensive, plus it makes you seem rude. This may cause her to snatch up books she is debating about (and possibly books you would be interested in) because she’s afraid you will walk off with those volumes once you gain the area, and before she has a chance to finish thinking over her selections.
Check out another table in another part of the room and keep an eye on the person’s progress as he or she finishes browsing the section. Once the person has left (and if there are no new seekers to that particular area), move in at a moderate pace, browsing the books you pass, so you don’t look like the crazed book hunter you are. ;) Once you arrive at your desired location, search through the books thoroughly; you may not get an opportunity for a second look.
Be friendly and courteous to your fellow shoppers:
As you browse, smile at those you come in contact with, excuse yourself if you get in their personal space, make light of any social faux pas that occur, and help them out if they knock over a stack of books, trip over a box, or experience some other mishap. The point is to be unthreatening. Aside from being the kind thing to do, being polite and helpful will encourage your fellow shoppers to return the favor.
Should you edge into a section someone is browsing, he or she will be more likely to move on and let you into that space to dig for a bit if you’ve proven you can be courteous while searching for the books you want. I don’t mean to imply you should be kind to the others simply to “earn” a kindness in return. I am only noting that having proven your ability to be thoughtful of others, others will likely be more aware of and thoughtful toward you in the community “dance” around the tables and boxes of books.
If you have your eye on a book and someone else picks it up before you can, be patient and watch. Does the person head straight to the cash girl or does he or she look around a bit longer? The customer may still reconsider that decision and lay it down somewhere. If you’re really interested in it, keep an eye on the shopper to see if he or she lays it somewhere. If you know the book is gone for good, take a deep breath and keep browsing; some new treasure is bound to catch your eye and dim your grief for the lost volume.
If you have any questions at all, head for the volunteers or the library workers. They have set up the sale, so they can generally resolve any problems or issues you come upon.
Some places are strict on whether they will accept checks, but cash is accepted everywhere. At my last sale, I made the mistake of forgetting this rule, opting to leave my green at home. However, the girl at the cash box was kind enough to hold my books for me while I drove home to grab my cash (a 40-minute round trip) and return to pick up my new-found treasures. Probably not the best decision, but I had apparently found several gems I just could not give up.
Show your finds to friends who will appreciate them:
One of the best parts of the book sale is showing off the spoils of your adventure to your friends or family. There is a unique story to the discovery of each volume, and sharing your victorious tale with someone else makes the search that much sweeter.
Perhaps I have made entirely too much of the Book Sale and grossly overthought it–I realize most people likely do not view it as a sort of jungle or strategy game–but I hope I have observed something that proves useful to you. If you have any additional thoughts on this subject, please leave a comment. Comments are almost better than books! ;)
Happy Hunting! :)