Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Random Thought - Some Thoughts About Library Book Sales

I love library book sales1. I love the hunt - perusing the rows of books and separating the wheat from the chaff, and then coming across the unexpected find that you never knew you absolutely needed. There is something magical about standing among the piles of books, shoulder to shoulder with other bibliophiles,most of you searching for something none of you had any idea you were looking for. I love that I can usually get dozens of books for the price of one or two new hardbacks.

This past weekend, the redhead and I went to three different library book sales - one in Reston, one in Annandale, and one in Arlington - and added a few books to our collection. Here is the bounty that resulted from our efforts:

Okay, it was more than a few books, which is pretty much what happens every time I go to a library book sale. Going to a library book sale requires a kind of chaotic mind-set. The sales are not like book stores, where you can walk in hoping to buy a specific book and have a reasonable expectation that you will be able to do so. Since the stock being sold at a library book sale is what had been donated to the cause, what one will find is almost completely random. One has to walk into the sale much like one walks into a used book store, willing to hunt through stacks of books looking for the handful of diamonds in the rough, and willing to more or less take whatever one finds. Usually, the selection is heavy on "classics" of the science fiction and fantasy genres. It isn't too difficult to find a copy of Ringworld by Larry Niven or The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, or any number of books by Isaac Asimov at a library book sale, but if you are looking for a particular book by Murray Leinster or James White, you're going to have to look a little harder. That said, there are some patterns that I have noticed over the years.

1. The closer a library is to an urban center, the better the selection of fantasy and science fiction it will have. One might even expand that to an assertion that the closer a library is to an urban center the better overall selection of books it will have, but there do seem to be certain categories of books that are more commonly found in rural areas - mostly books that one might find in a Christian book store. I live outside of the District of Columbia, and I find that the closer I get to the city itself, the more expansive and more interesting the science fiction section of a library book sale becomes.

2. The closer a library is to an urban center, the better the selection of DVDs and Bluerays is as well. I primarily go to library book sales for books, but I always check the DVD sales as well, and usually end up picking up at least a couple. I might not be willing to pay full price for a DVD of Minority Report or Elizabeth, but at two dollars each, they are worth getting. Even better, one can sometimes find stuff that you never would have thought of getting, but once you see it, you realize that you must have it. For example, at one of the sales this past weekend, I found volume two of the Superfriends, which immediately went into my shopping bag.

3. Though the specifics of a library books sale's stock are somewhat random, there are some types of books that crop up on something of a schedule. The stock of a library book sale is more or less a snap shot of what was really popular a year or two ago. Every book sale I went to this past weekend had piles of books by Veronica Roth and Rick Riordan. If I didn't already have them, I could have easily assembled the entire Percy Jackson series. A few years ago, the shelves were overflowing with copies of Harry Potter and Twilight novels. You can still find those, but they don't show up in the same numbers as they used to. On a more adult side, one can find piles of books by authors like Laurell K. Hamilton and Kelley Armstrong, along with a handful of books by authors like Jim Butcher.

4. On a fairly regular basis, one will find an intriguing puzzle in the books. It is relatively apparent that most books are donated by people who are cleaning out their homes and getting rid of the books that their kids read a few years ago, but have now lost interest in, or books that they got to read at the beach or on an airplane ride or something similar. But sometimes it is clear that the books were part of a collection put together by someone who really loved a particular author. When I find such troves, I always wonder what the story is behind their donation. Perhaps these books get donated when someone dies and their relatives clean their house out, or when they move from their home into a retirement community or some similar situation. For obvious reasons one will never almost certainly never know the story. At one of the three library book sales I found a pile of books by E.C. Tubb, an author that I had only a passing familiarity with. Last Friday, I owned no books by E.C. Tubb. Now I have sixteen.

5. The selection of graphic novels is always terrible. Over the years, I have only been able to find a handful of graphic novels that were worth getting, and some of those were ones I got because they were quirky - this past weekend I found a volume titled Library Mascot Cage Match, about which I know nothing about and picked up entirely due to the weirdness of the title. I also found a copy of The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which was a rare find for a library book sale. Manga, on the other hand, is amazingly easy to find at library book sales. I could, if I was interested, come away from most library book sales with dozens of manga books.

6. It is fairly rare to find recent books. Most of the time the selection consists of books that are at least a few years out of date, and in some cases, many years out of date. Even so, sometimes one gets lucky: One of the books I found last weekend was Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, which is currently on the list of finalists for the Hugo Award.

None of these observations are grounded in anything other than my personal experience of going to library book sales for several years. I suppose that at some point it is inevitable that I will run across a library book sale that confounds all of these impressions, but thus far, they all seem to hold true.

As a final note, I recommend Book Sale Finder as a way to locate library book sales near you.

1 Technically, most "library book sales" (at least in the area I live in) aren't actually run by the library itself, but rather by a quasi-affiliated "friends of the library" organization, but that is not a distinction that really makes much of a difference.

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