Anthony Corrales/Sun Staff Photographer

On Oct. 6, Ithaca locals gathered at the Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library’s biannual book sales for item hunting and the library's fundraising.

October 12, 2023

Amid Library Reopening, Friends of the Library Fall Sale Fosters Community, Features Hidden Literary Gems

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On a rainy Saturday morning, hundreds of people lined up outside of an Esty Street warehouse in anticipation of the Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library’s biannual book sale. Despite the cold and wet weather, the anticipation is clear. Whatever is inside is worth waiting for.

Sale-goer Patti Kiesows and her husband traveled from the Rochester area to be among the first 175 people to be let inside and had been parked with lawn chairs in line since 7 a.m.

“It’s sort of like how a kid would feel in a candy shop because we love books,” Kiesows said. “That’s how we feel coming here. We look forward to it every year.” 

And they are not alone. The line for the sale had already wrapped around the block over an hour before the sale’s opening at 10 a.m. Another sale-goer vying to be among the first to shop was David Chevalier, who had been waiting since 6 a.m.

“I was anticipating maybe I’ll find something I didn’t expect to find — a surprise,” Chevalier said.

The Friends of the Tompkins County Library sale is running on the first three weekends of October at 509 Esty Street. The sale’s Student Night is 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 18. 

The start of the sale on Saturday, Oct. 7 coincided with the reopening of the library earlier that week following two weeks of renovations on its heating, ventilation and cooling systems. Alongside these maintenance renovations, the library has been working on a radio frequency identification project — where library books are tagged with a label with an embedded microchip and antenna — to improve circulation. As a part of the process of adding the RFID tags, the library has also been removing more books from their shelves than in a usual year.

“[The library] had to weed their collection because some books are outdated, and some books are falling apart,” said Sarah Hatcher, the assistant coordinator of the book sale. “They did not want to spend money putting a tag in a book that they are going to discard.” 

Depending on their condition, the books selected for removal at the library were able to be sold at the sale. According to Hatcher, the higher than normal volume of these weeded library books sent to this fall’s sale challenged the library volunteers tasked with processing and sorting materials. However, this increased weeding has also slightly increased the sale’s supply.

According to Hatcher, the sale had approximately 244,000 items, including books, records, games, computer software, posters, sheet music and more. These items were placed in different aisles of the warehouse that get traversed by the sale’s over 10,000 patrons. Hatcher said that the organization of the items is key to the sale’s continued success.

“We think what makes [the sale] most successful is that we really categorize our subjects, [and] we alphabetize our fiction by author,” Hatcher said. “At smaller book sales they either don’t have the number of people to do it or they don’t want to — it takes too much time.”

Hatcher said the work put into the categorization and alphabetization of sale items — the result of the efforts of over 200 volunteers — was helpful for people looking for a book by a particular author or for a particular category of book from the nonfiction category, which was organized by subject matter at a high level of specificity.

“We really fine sort the books, so people know where they can find them,” Hatcher said.

This organizational structure was highly valued by the patrons, who appreciated both the quality of the layout and the books themselves, which were provided both by the community and the library during a months-long donation window leading up to the sale.

“It’s fun to be able to explore books laid out in a way you wouldn’t normally find them at a bookstore and find hidden gems you wouldn’t normally discover,” said Jeff Hughes, an Ithaca resident who has frequented the book sale since his childhood.

“I found a $600 medical school textbook the last time I was here, and it was 50 cents,” said Christine Mialki, a returning book sale patron. 

Another visitor, Bryan Spencer, raved about his favorite purchase: two collections of hardcover Elric of Melniboné series, which he said were “really hard to find elsewhere.” 

The sale is certainly no stranger to rare and unexpected books, which keep many customers coming back year after year. The sale’s Collectors Corner is a nook filled with historically significant or rare items that are valued at a higher price than other books and items at the sale.

“We got a first edition first printing of Twelve Years a Slave a few years ago [and] a first edition first printing of Lolita,” said Jan Safran, co-coordinator of the Collectors Corner.

Safran said that this year, the Collectors Corner received copies of the Kinsey Reports, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female — two pioneering texts on human sexual orientation — signed by not only the authors but also by gay rights activist and AIDS researcher Bruce Voeller. 

“The history of the books that we have in here — that’s probably the most interesting part of the whole thing,” said Marcie Bean, another Collectors Corner volunteer. 

The funds generated from the sale are used to support the Tompkins County Public Library, the Finger Lakes Library System and community literacy groups. 

“The majority of the proceeds from these sales the Friends [of the Tompkins County Public Library] give directly to TCPL at 101 East Green Street and they directly support our collections,” Tabor said. 

The sale is not only a crucial revenue source for the library systems in Ithaca and Tompkins County but also a beloved community event and tradition.

“[The sale is] an amazing community resource that we have this opportunity to get a lot of books in the hands of readers,” said Colley Sullivan, who had been bringing his 12-year-old son to the book sale since he was five years old.

And that sense of community extended beyond just the books. It was present in the strangers sharing windbreakers and umbrellas in line, in the baked goods from Ithaca Bakery split among companions and in the newfound friendships formed between waiting patrons.

“The book sale weekends are the hottest times to be in Ithaca,” Tabor said. 

Dorothy France-Miller ’27 and Kate Sanders ’27 are Sun contributors and can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].