“They can get feisty,” Fred Eddy whispered as he stood next to the used cookbooks.
This confession about book dealers was more a mundane fact than a gossipy disclosure, at least for Eddy, first vice president of the Friends of the Schenectady County Public Library.
He kept his voice low since a family of dealers stood nearby. In fact, they had just shooed him away, for they were right in the middle of a count and did not want to be interrupted. Their books were piled high in stacks in a corner of the central library’s McChesney Room.
The first hours of the group’s annual book sale are the craziest. A Friends volunteer had just stomped off, upset the dealers were hoarding books in the corner again. This is a normal practice, Eddy explained. The problem comes when they go to buy their books; sometimes they leave discards behind and the volunteers have to sort them all over again.
“I try to go easy on them,” said Eddy. “They are responsible for a lot of the volume we will see today, so you try to develop a friendly relationship with them. It can be difficult, though.”
The Friends hosted its first-ever combined winter book sale Saturday in the McChesney Room of the central library. Usually, they host a nonfiction-only sale in January and a fiction-only sale in February. Smaller in size, those sales were held in the hallway that leads into the library.
Friends President John Karl wasn’t a fan.
“It was very cramped and very cold since the doors were always opening and closing,” he said, “so to make things easier, we got the library to let us use this room for the weekend. It’s easier to combine them here.”
The new system appeared to be a hit, with a steady throng of buyers filtering in and out of the room Saturday and volunteers working quickly to replenish the offerings. But then again, every book sale the Friends host is a hit. That may be because the books sell for just $1 and there is a huge selection across many categories. On Saturday, more than 5,000 fiction and nonfiction titles were available, including history, travel, business, science, mysteries, ethnic, poetry, biographies and classics.
Much larger book sales are held in May and September, with each moving about 22,000 books, Karl said. The winter sales combined usually move as many as 6,000 titles. Overall, the Friends pull in as much as $45,000 a year from the sales, nearly double what they raised a decade ago. All proceeds go to fund library programming and staff advancement, like national librarian conferences.
“There was a line when I got here this morning,” said Eddy. “We have to put up police tape to cordon off the area where the sale will happen. That’s how eager these people can get.”
It’s mostly the dealers who show up early. Mary Jo Downey and Gordon Neufeld were first in line Saturday, arriving at 8:25 a.m. for a 9 a.m. opening.
“Some of them get crazy,” Downey said of the other dealers as she took a break from scanning books.
Her husband kept at it, pointing an electronic bar-code scanner at a book to find its going price online. He was one of many using a handheld device to shop for books Saturday.
The husband-wife duo lives in Alplaus and have been in the resale business for a while, buying up scholarly academic nonfiction and books on art, birds and local interest at cheap prices and selling them online. The couple actually hopes to open a bookstore with less esoteric offerings in Alplaus this spring.
While Schenectady’s sale is much smaller than some of the behemoth sales they attend in Ithaca and Poughkeepsie, Downey and Neufeld always manage to walk away with some unique finds.
“This morning I found a signed Ray Bradbury,” said Downey in a hushed, conspiratorial voice. “It was one of his children’s books with all these pictures inside.”
The Friends have been hosting book sales since 1973. By 2002, the book sales were bringing in enough money to convince the organization’s leaders to open a used bookstore right down the street from the central library. The Whitney Book Corner is at the corner of Clinton and Union streets and is still run by Friends volunteers.
Over the last decade, the annual book sales have only grown. Volunteers plan for them year-round, said Karl. The library gets “hundreds and hundreds” of donated books a week, he said, and volunteers sort them into boxes by category and store them on the second floor of the library.
“We have more than 100 volunteers working each book sale,” he said. “If we don’t call them up and ask them to help out, they get mad; that’s how much they look forward to them. They’re a lot of fun, believe it or not, because you’ve spent all year organizing and preparing and then you see your hard work pay off.”