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EVERYBODY'S DOING IT: SECONDHAND PROSE: Volume discounts offered at library sale

March 3, 2008

EVERYBODY'S DOING IT

SECONDHAND PROSE Volume discounts offered at library sale

Inside Secondhand Prose, a CD of old-timey bluegrass music plays softly as a half-dozen volunteers quietly go about their business. They're emptying bags and boxes, sorting through thousands and thousands of books and stocking shelves in preparation for the Indianapolis-Mar ion County Public Library's next book sale, March 7-9 and 14-15.

Six times a year, the library opens up its shop inside the Library Services Center, 2450 N. Meridian St., to sell off its discards as well as items donated to the central library and its branches. Except for the rare volumes in an area called Miriam's Corner, nothing sells for more than $2.

"People can come in and get some great deals," said library book and gift sale coordinator Curt Witteveen. "And it's nice for the library because every library has to get rid of books. If you can make money to get rid of them instead of paying someone to get rid of them, it can only help the library in the long run."

Secondhand Prose looks like a slightly smaller version of Half-Price Books. CDs, DVDs, books on tape-even boxes of greeting cards and baseball cards-compete for shelf space with the books. Five copies of Robert B. Parker's "Blue Screen," seven "2006 Mobile Travel Guide NY" (and three of the 2005 version), two hardcover copies of John Feinstein's landmark "A Season on the Brink" can be found (temporarily) in the stacks, which are organized like a book store. Mysteries, movies/TV, humor, new age, health arts, science, biographies, history, travel and juvenile are just some of the categories.

And the categories have subcategories-cookbooks are divided into international, vegetarian, special diets and more; sports has space for golf, bicycling, football and baseball, among others. Alphabetization can be spotty, once you get past opening day.

The library held its first sale in 1986. In the 22 years since, these sales, along with selling books on the Internet, have generated about $3 million. The proceeds fund other library services, like the Summer Reading Program.

Miriam Geib, for whom Miriam's Corner is named, started the book sales at the direction of Ray Gnat, who was then director of the library.

"It was a learn-as-I-go proposition," said Geib, whose title is collectible book seller. "I had not been involved in bookstores or book sales other than being a book lover, so I just started out with the idea of 'What do I like in a bookstore?' and tried to re-create that within the limitations of the amount of help I would have and the quantity of books and all the variables. You never know what's coming in the door from one day to the next."

In the early years, the sales brought in $25,000-$30,000 a year. Today, it's $200,000 annually, plus another $80,000-$100,000 from online sales of collectible books.

Geib and Witteveen credit volunteers with making the sales work. Some 600 volunteers help organize, coordinate, stack and sell. John Lyell, a retired accountant who's been volunteering for 20 years, is one of those.

Lyell said he's never discovered a gem or a favorite new author, but he likes coming in Wednesdays and Saturdays to meet people and have something productive to do.

"It's fun," he said as he emptied another bag of books onto a table to begin the sorting process. "It's educational. You go through them and say, 'Well, this looks interesting. I might start reading this.' And there are things I look for myself. It's cheaper than buying full price, that's for sure."

Navigation tips

Become a Friend of the Library. The first night of each sale is Friend's Night, which gives you first crack at the shelves. (For information about becom ing a Friend, call 275-4700.)

Get there early. "Friday night is two hours of madness," Witteveen said. "Saturday is crazy till at least 1-2. Sunday is relatively quiet."

If it's quantity you want, wait for the second weekend. That's when they have Half-Price Day and $5 Bag Day.

When you walk in, look left. Miriam's Corner has the most valuable and interesting stuff.

If you miss this sale, don't worry. The next one is May 16-18, and there are sales July 11-19, Sept. 12-14 and Nov. 14-22.
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