Friends of the Library book sale starts new chapter

While October brings the promise of cooler weather and fall foliage, this year it also will be filled with the rustling of a different sort of leaves as the Alachua County Friends of the Library book sale makes its return.

The biannual book sale, a fall and spring ritual in Gainesville that helps support the Alachua County Library District, has been on hiatus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it restarts Saturday with some new rules as well as a new way to pay for all the book sale treasures, said Sue Morris, the publicity chair for the Friends of the Library (FOL).

“We are so happy to see people who want and love books as much as we do,” Morris said.

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The all-volunteer organization canceled three sales due to concerns about the pandemic but is restarting with masking rules and capacity restrictions to help with a safe return.

“It will be a little cumbersome, but we hope it will be safe and we want so much to get it started again,” Morris said in a phone interview.

The building, at 430 N. Main St., is now divided into two sections with separate entrances and lines, and both sections will have occupancy limits. The book sale also will require shoppers to wear masks and socially distance while they are indoors.

“It may be a little inconvenient and a little surprising,” Morris said. “We will have lots of volunteers there to help everyone understand and get in the right line.”

The main section, which houses most of the fiction and non-fiction books as well CDs, vinyl records and the rare items of the collector’s corner, will be capped at 300 people at a time, Morris said. Once that limit is reached, patrons will have to wait outside until other shoppers leave.

The annex section, which occupies a space the FOL bought from the Junior League, contains art books and artwork as well as comics, manga, games and puzzles. It will be limited to 90 to 100 patrons at a time, Morris said.

People wishing to shop both areas will have to exit one area and get in line for the second area.

“People should not be dismayed if they see long lines,” Morris said. “If they can’t get in on [Saturday], by all means, come back.”

Another new development means book-hungry buyers will no longer have to carry cash to make purchases, Morris said. For the first time, the book sale, which has previously taken only cash and checks, will have credit card readers that will accept debit and credit cards as well as Google Pay and Apple Pay.

The fall book sale schedule is 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 23, and noon to 6 p.m. on Oct. 24-27. Oct. 26 is half-price day, and Oct. 27 is 10-cent day. The collector’s corner is open the first four days of the sale (Oct. 23-26).

The library adds new stock throughout the sale.

“We replenish as the sale goes along—from the first hour we are always replenishing,” Morris said.

Robbie Davis is one of the many volunteers who staffs the sale each year, working in what Morris described as a “seriously enlarged” collector’s corner.

The collector’s corner houses the book sale’s more collectible books, including older, rare books, first editions and signed copies. The FOL website highlights some of the finds available in the section.

Collector's Corner at the Friends of the Library book sale

Davis has volunteered in the collector’s corner for more than 30 years where he sorts and prices books for children and young adults.

He attended his first Friends of the Library sale with his parents and still has the first book he ever bought on 10-cent day at that sale: a copy of Margaret Sidney’s “Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.”

“I haven’t missed a sale since the fourth grade,” Davis said in a phone interview.

He was recruited to volunteer in the collector’s corner because of his own interest in children’s literature. He laughingly refers to himself as a “hoarder,” but his experience as a collector helps him to select and price books for the corner.

“I try to make it affordable for everyone,” Davis said. “There’s nothing like finding a book that you’ve been looking for and finding it at a great price.”

While he sees a lot of dealers who shop the sale looking for stock for their businesses, Davis said he likes “to see books go to collectors. I want them to be happy, and I want them to remember the time they found this book they have been looking for since childhood, and they got it for $3.”

Davis describes the book sale, which started in 1954 and raised $80 for the library district, as an iconic—and quintessential—Gainesville event. And as a 30-years-plus volunteer, he said he likes to see the return of familiar faces.

“For some families it’s a tradition,” Davis said. “I have seen people grow up coming to the book sale as children who are now bringing their own children, and that’s kind of cool.”

Courtney Mehrlich, 35, was one of those people who grew up coming to the FOL book sale with her parents. This year she said she’s excited to bring her 7-year-old son to the sale. Although she and her husband have been bringing Benjamin to the sale since he was young, this fall’s event will be the first time he’s exploring the books as an independent reader.

“At the book sale, you can give a kid $10, and they can buy a ton of books,” she said. “I am excited about taking him and hoping he finds something that excites him about reading.”

Before the pandemic, Mehrlich and her family shopped on Sundays and would get in line an hour or two before the sale opened, but the new rules and a scheduling conflict mean they may try Saturday afternoon instead.

“I am interested to see how the capacity limits are going to work because I do know there are definitely those ‘salers’ who will go in and spend hours upon hours,” Mehrlich said.

Mehrlich said that in addition to books for Benjamin, they will be trying to find Chilton automotive repair manuals to fill out her husband’s collection and looking for vinyl records from the ‘60s and ‘70s to play on a family record player.

“It’s a great family experience going to the book sale,” Mehrlich said. “It’s like a big scavenger hunt of ‘what else can you learn, what else can you find.’ It helps you find new ways to grow.”

The book sale also helps the Alachua County Library District grow. The Friends of the Library has given more than $5.4 million to the ACLD since 1986, said Rachel Cook, the public relations and marketing manager for the ACLD.

That money has funded quiet reading rooms at eight of the district’s branches, brought award-winning writers to Gainesville through an authors series, and provided more than $350,000 in scholarships to library staff members.

“We cannot thank FOL’s intrepid volunteers enough for the hard work they put into the book sales to raise money to help us provide the best possible services to Alachua County and to fund local literacy projects,” Cook said in an email to Mainstreet Daily News.

Records at the Friends of the Library book sale

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