Taryn Chung/Sun Contributor

Ithacans explore the selection of books at the "Friends of the library" book sale.

May 7, 2023

“Friends of the Library” Charity Book Sale Raises Money for County Public Libraries

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Those looking for books to read on the beach, a new game for their children or just a good deal can turn to the biannual “Friends of the Library Book Sale,” one of Ithaca’s most highly anticipated events. The book sale opened its doors at 509 Esty St. for the spring sale on Saturday, May 6. 

Held twice a year in October and May, this book sale is the primary source of funding for the Tompkins County Public Library Organization and the Finger Lakes Library System

Winnie Kostroun, a dedicated volunteer of the book sale for over 25 years, believes that this event is not only one of the largest in the country, but also well organized.

“This is probably the biggest, best-organized sale in the whole country,” Kostroun said. “Everything is in great order here. We have 70 categories of nonfiction and about 14 categories of fiction.”

Prof. Ruth Collins, molecular medicine, was one of the book enthusiasts waiting in line to enter the book sale. Speaking with excitement about the extensive selection, she noted that the event offered a unique opportunity to discover new reading material.

“[In this book sale] you can get all kinds of books and magazines that you never even heard of, that you might not even see in a catalog or library,” Collins said.

According to Kostroun, the book sale’s extensive collection is made possible by generous donations, including contributions from well-known names like Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Prof. Alison Lurie, English, who died in 2020. Prof. Ted Lowi, government, donated his library upon his death in 2017 and the collection was also aided by a bookstore that went out of business and donated 6,000 books, according to Kostroun.

This cycle of giving back not only uplifts the education of the local community, but also provides the community with valuable resources in the form of donations to the public library.

Famous for its long lines, the book sale has become a tradition for many in Ithaca. According to Kostroun, there people used to camp out overnight on the sidewalks and bring chairs and tables just to wait in line. While camping overnight is no longer necessary due to the new regulations — in which special days are reserved for professional book dealers — the demand for the event remains as strong as ever.

This weekend, once again, students, scholars and local Ithacans of all ages eagerly waited in line for hours to get their hands on books, magazines and other media. Many reported to The Sun that it was worth the wait.

“The community comes out in hundreds,” Kostroun said. “We get between two thousand and three thousand customers. We always get crowds.”

The overwhelming interest in the book sale every year is a testament to its importance for the Ithaca community. This event not only promotes literacy and education but also fosters a sense of community spirit.

“Every kind of person who lives in this town [comes to the book sale] — academic kids, townie kids, rural kids…” Kostroun said. 

The Friends of the Library Book Sale is not only a charity event, but also a cultural gathering that plays an important role in bringing the local community together to promote literacy. Veronica Zinner, a regular book sale customer and longtime Ithaca resident, said the appeal of the book sale is simple.

“The prices, the selection and the people are great,” Zinner said.

Aslı Cihangir ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].