Spring 2001

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The Book Cellar: A Tale of Two Approaches

by Judy Rosen, President Albany Public Library Board of Trustees, and NYSALB Trustee

Spring 2001 issue of Trustee

Like many public libraries, Albany Public had an annual sale of discarded and donated books, which was organized and run by the Friends of the Library. This one-day event, held in the larger of our two auditoriums, traditionally yielded one or two thousand dollars.

In the late 1990s, attendance and sales began to drop off, even though the number of books offered had increased. The return on the large investment in time and labor from the Friends and the library custodial staff was discouraging. Eventually, the Friends and the library director began to discuss other options, including discontinuing the sale altogether.

Fortunately, board member Bill Meredith stepped in and offered to help. After a series of brainstorming sessions with the director and the Friends, he volunteered to transform an annual sale into a weekly one. Several connected rooms in the library's basement were painted and book stacks were installed. Hundreds of boxes of used books were opened and organized in subject order. This labor-intensive task took over two months of daily attention. Not every book was deemed saleable, and many were discarded for poor condition. Some collector's items were set aside to be sold over the Internet.

Signs were made for all subject sections, including a "new arrivals" table; a children's section, which included a small table and chairs where kids could entertain themselves while their caregivers browsed; and an audio-video section that we named the "Hall of Records."

To make shopping easier, we posted price lists prominently. And to simplify cash control for our volunteer cashiers, we made the minimum purchase one dollar-so pocket books are one dollar, get four free, instead of five for a dollar. (Obviously, this also moves our stock faster!) Prices were based on previous experience and some experimentation, and are as follows:

Hardcover books $1.00
Large softcover books $1.00 get one free
Pocket books $1.00 get 4 free
Children's books $1.00 get 2 free
Audio books $1.00
Music tapes & CDs $1.00 get one free
Records $1.00 get four free

As opening day approached, we decided that a contest to name the new bookstore would be a great way to generate excitement. We publicized the contest on our web site, in our newsletter, and on signs posted throughout the main library and our four branch locations. The winning name was "The Book Cellar," and the prize was a shopping cart filled with the winner's choice of books!

Two years later, we remain pleased with the continuing success of The Book Cellar. We are open every Thursday, and the second Saturday of the month, from 10AM to 2PM. Sales exceed $20,000 each year, and we continue to receive hundreds of donated books from individuals and local libraries. The only items we find we can't sell are Magazines (including National Geographic), out of date textbooks, and Reader's Digest Condensed Books.

From the worst of times, to the best of times -- Library volunteers and staff took a struggling program and turned it around. We are looking forward to many years of continued success for The Book Cellar.

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