Hannah Rosenberg/Sun Photography Editor

The Friends of the Library Book Sale runs from Oct. 9-11, 16-18 and 23-26, 2021 at 509 Esty Street in Ithaca.

October 21, 2021

Back to the Books: Friends of the Library Sale Returns for Fall 2021

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Though a cold chill ran through the air on Sunday morning, a line formed far down Esty Street before the biannual Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library book sale opened its doors at 10 a.m. 

Despite pandemic-related challenges, the sale returned with fewer restrictions this year for three consecutive weekends starting Oct. 9, including a special student night on Oct. 20. While the sale was open last fall and this past spring, occupancy was limited, and has slowly started to increase.

The Regina C. Lennox Building has hosted the sale since 1991 — open to visitors with a massive warehouse floor and over 20,000 books spanning more than 80 categories, according to book sale coordinator Kathy Weinberg. 

“Books are fun and plentiful,” said Gabrielle Burns, a volunteer with the sale, echoing the reason many choose to visit, especially as the sale steadily returns to normalcy. 

The book sale occurs in both spring and fall. It’s the main fundraising event for the Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library, which donates money to libraries in the Finger Lakes region — especially the Tompkins County Public Library — and offers educational grants. 

Run by nearly 200 volunteers, the sale offers heavily discounted prices on books donated by members of the public, Weinberg said. On each day of the sale after the first weekend, prices drop even lower than opening prices.

According to Weinberg, the Friends of the Library was forced to reduce volunteer numbers in spring 2020 and postponed their spring sale into summer. Weinberg said the sale has adapted safety regulations as COVID vaccinations become more widespread and as case numbers drop.

Weinberg added that Anne Neirynck, an Ithaca area nurse practitioner who did extensive research on COVID safety measures, helped the sale to resume in summer 2020 and beyond. 

The warehouse’s front is left open, helping large fans keep air circulating. The book sale also requires masks and social distancing, and the sale currently allows for 40 percent occupancy — or 100 people — an uptick from the 80 person capacity last spring.

“The main downside of limiting attendance is the long line,” Weinberg said. 

A webcam is live outside the warehouse, allowing potential visitors to gauge the line length. However, the lines haven’t deterred what Weinberg calls their “very dedicated shoppers,” people willing to wait and tote heavy bags full of books, returning year after year. 

Resident Vincent Caruso returned to the sale for his sixth time this year. Caruso has volunteered with the Friends in previous years, and he got in line 30 minutes before the sale opened to find books that he said are much cheaper than those on eBay or Amazon. 

“I’m just hoping to look around,” he said. “It’s something to do.” 

Caruso said he hoped to find some PlayStation 4 games, which are sold alongside the books as well as puzzles, DVDs and other items.

For other shoppers, the sale provided a new experience this year. Ithaca resident Hayley Kresock, who only attended the sale once during spring 2021, perused the mystery and thriller section. 

“[The sale] is a good deal right now,” Kresock said. “It’s a good way to participate in the community.” 

In addition to purchasing books for herself, Kresock looked in the robust children’s section to find books for her kids. She hopes to catch the sale next spring as well.

In the children’s section, Gabrielle Burns, the Friends of the Library volunteer, helped some younger customers browse the extensive selections. Burns has volunteered at the sale for two years, sorting book donations as they come in and working on the floor. She expressed her appreciation for the bounty of books and information available at the book sale.  

“The best part is getting books into readers’ hands,” Burns said.