Turning Pages Into Programs at Somerville Library’s Book Sale

Tables full of books await buyers at this weekend's used book sale at Somerville Public Library. Photo by Eric J. Francis

Standing in the back stairwell of the Somerville Public Library—a space known colloquially as “the pink room”—you can’t help but notice how stacks of book-filled boxes tower over Friends of the Somerville Public Library president Kim Shane. Every box contains dozens of books, and there are dozens of boxes that have been stockpiled here by Friends volunteers in anticipation of the library’s fall used book sale.

“Our only goal, and our main goal, is to fund programs the library gives,” says Shane. “The staff really understands what the community wants and needs, at all different audience levels. I’m always really excited to see what they’re presenting every month.”

By the time they opened the doors at 6 p.m. yesterday, a line had already formed in the library’s lobby. And with luck, the overwhelming majority of the books (and DVDs and CDs) will walk out the doors by Sunday afternoon, each one adding a dollar to the kitty that Friends uses to help keep the library’s calendar full.

That’s right: It’s a buck apiece for as many as you can carry away (and half-price if you are a Friends member at the $50 per year level). When the weekend is over, that will have translated to thousands of dollars raised—last year’s sale brought in about $5,000, in fact, which helped fund things like the museum pass program, author readings, workshops, the weekly singalong program, and family yoga.

“The trend now is that people are recognizing that libraries are more than just books,” says Director of Libraries Cathy Piantigini. “People do come here for the programming—that’s a big part of what we offer to the public.”

The books in the sale—which takes place twice a year, in May as well as October—come from donations, as well as library copies that have been retired form circulation. They are kept in one end of the library’s lower level where three Friends volunteers spend several hours a week organizing them and boxing them up.

Kim Shane, president of Friends of the Somerville Public Library, stands amid boxes of books for the twice-yearly sale. Photo by Eric J. Francis

Then, in the days leading up to the sale, more volunteers from Friends and Somerville High School show up to clear out the library’s auditorium, set up tables, haul in the boxes, and arrange the books. Shane says it took 10 people about 15 hours over three days to do that prep work—that’s 150 person-hours, or nearly four weeks of full-time work if you were doing it by yourself. And they keep refreshing the supply from the boxes in the pink room all weekend.

Once the doors open, it’s not just library patrons who attend the sale, says Piantigini. Many of those who stop by during the first few days are people who work in Boston and live to the north. Because Somerville is at the mid-point of their commute, they stop over, buy some books, and then head home.

The library had its first book sale about 40 years ago, shortly after the 1976 renovation of the main branch; the Friends group also started about then, and got its nonprofit status in 1983. It has been, to paraphrase the movie “Casablanca,” a beautiful friendship.

“We’re deeply appreciative, as you can imagine,” says Piantigini.

The Friends of the Somerville Public Library book sale’s hours are 6 to 8:30 p.m. today; noon to 4 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.