“As much as I like books–at the moment, well, I pretty much don’t like books,” Rae Ann Weymouth says wryly, surveying the mountains of donated books being processed in the basement of the Ann Arbor District Library’s main branch. On Thanksgiving weekend, in addition to preparing for the annual Friends of the Library holiday sale, which will take place in the basement, she was still learning how to run what has now essentially become a secondhand bookshop on the main floor of the library, open thirty-three hours a week.
Weymouth is the manager–and only paid employee–of the Friends Book Shop. It’s nominally about a half-time job, though at the moment, she says, she’s working more than full time. Otherwise, the shop is staffed entirely by volunteers. (Weymouth, a retired school librarian, began as a volunteer in 2008.) The bookshop opened November 1 and is staffed at least a few hours every day (see schedule below). “We made $2,282 the first week,” says Weymouth. “The second week we made $2,814; the third $2,407. The next week we went down to about $1,700, but that was the week of the ice storm.” That is a lot of $2 books, but these numbers weren’t astounding to her. She says that through their fundraising efforts most years the Friends are able to give $100,000 to the library.
A jovial and learned bunch of volunteers, the Friends have run a weekend book sale in the library basement for more than thirty years. They had a well-honed system in place. But during the last few years, their space in the basement had shrunk considerably when the library commandeered it for another collection. Then the basement closed down entirely for elevator repairs. But bags and boxes of donated books continued to arrive.
Weymouth quickly put in place an efficient triage system at the loading dock. “First, any book that smells, or is heavily underlined or highlighted, goes into recycle.” Next, any potentially valuable book is picked off for sale on eBay: “We have twenty-five or thirty subject specialists, mostly ex-librarians or professors,” who evaluate them–Weymouth herself does the cookbooks. Then they’re sorted into subject areas.
With the small loading dock overflowing with piled-up donations, and most of the basement off limits, library director Josie Parker suggested last summer that the weekend sales resume in the old teen room on the first floor. They were so successful that the space is now a full-fledged permanent bookshop. (The teens have moved to the third floor.)
The shop also sells comics, CDs, DVDs, sheet music, and jigsaw puzzles. “And the puzzles have all their pieces,” she notes. “Each one has either been counted or worked by a volunteer.” Books are shelved by subject area: everything from classic categories like history and biography to contemporary genres like LGBTQ and how-to.
Weymouth also points out a shelf labeled simply “Old Books.” “People came to us and said, ‘But you don’t have any old books.'” So now, to satisfy customers who like cloth and gilt bindings for their visual appeal as much as for their contents, there’s a shelf of them–everything from Complete Works of William Shakespeare to Tried and True Toll House Recipes.
Weymouth adds that the shop also takes requests. It’s not foolproof, since the books are never catalogued, but volunteers will keep an eye out for a book a customer wants, and have been successful at finding some.
Friends Book Shop, 343 S. Fifth, 302-7774. Mon. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. & 4-7 p.m., Tues. & Thurs.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Wed. 10 a.m.-1 p.m, Sun. 1-4 p.m. faadl.org.