By Stan Cutler

Dealing with used books is a low-margin business. Except for rare ones, used books tend to be thrown away as trash. Some of us were raised in a secular faith that revered any and all books. Someone had taken the trouble to write and publish a book, not an easy thing. Any book can be a treasure to someone. For geezers like me, throwing away a book is a transgression, an ignorant act.

Even if I didn’t like a book, I’d never just throw it out. So I schlepped it around, for years and years, and accumulated many more along the way. And it’s personal. I’ve spent hours with them, learned from them, enjoyed them. But what if I have to make room for the kid that’s on the way? Or what if somebody leaves me a house full of books? Or what if I must move to smaller quarters? What am I supposed to do when I have more books than places to put them? If I could, I’d give them to a secondhand bookshop, but most are out of business or overstocked. 

Well, of course, give them to the library. But public libraries can’t take their patrons’ old books because they have neither space nor use for them. Yes, they understand my feelings and my problem, but they don’t want it to be their problem – they have enough of their own.

Into the breach, to rescue the helpless books of Chestnut Hill, came the Friends of the Library on white steeds. “We’re here to save the day! Ta daah!” we said. “And we shall collect your old books in the back room of the library at 8711 Germantown Ave., and we shall re-sell them at ridiculous prices. We shall conduct ‘Gently-Used Book Sales’ every Monday afternoon, year in and year out.”

And, by golly, it worked. Every Monday, a handful of dedicated neighbors removed, unpacked, displayed, and repacked hundreds of donated books into dozens of cardboard boxes and stowed them away, crammed them, into closets. A labor of love, but difficult labor nonetheless. Their efforts have been extraordinary. The book sale provided the Friends Organization with its steadiest source of precious donations over many years. When the Borders bookstore on Germantown Avenue closed in 2010, the project offered the only place to buy books within miles. On an average Monday, with books going for no more than a dollar, they made around $200, much of it from donations over and above the cost of the books. Often, they’d be given more books than they sold.  

But there was a lot of space and labor dedicated to the Gently Used Book Sale. When a key member of the team passed away in the fall, the volunteers felt it was time to temporarily discontinue the project. Here’s the thing: the books do have monetary value. We, The Friends, think people would be willing to pay more than a buck for a hardback book, especially if they know that the proceeds support the library. And they’d be happy to have a real honest-to-goodness bookstore in the neighborhood.

So, somehow, some way or other, we will be selling the gently used books again. We just have to come up with a better way to do it.  If you have ideas about how to deal with our used books, please explain via an email to programs@chestnuthilllibraryfriends.org.

The Winter Speaker Series kicks off on January 28 with:

“The Civilian Experience of The American Revolution in The Delaware Valley” — Claude Epstein, Tuesday Jan. 28,  1:30 p.m.

Within the war zone of the American Revolution, civilians were killed, maimed and raped, their property and public buildings destroyed. Some turned these dire circumstance into money making opportunities. Claude Epstein is a retired  Stockton University Professor of Hydrology, an expert on the impact of European settlement on the Delaware Valley’s natural resources.

The remainder of the season promises to be fascinating.  Join your neighbors for education, enlightenment, entertainment, cookies and conversation in the Community Room of our library at 8711 Germantown Ave. the same room where our book sales used to happen.  All presentations are free and begin on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. Check out the calendar of events and reserve a seat at  www.chlibraryfriends.org. 

...