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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > November/December 2005

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Information Today
Vol. 19 No. 6 — Nov/Dec 2005
Cover Story

Having a Book Sale for a Heck-of-a-Good Cause
By Sara Gruber

Witnessing images of tsunami-ravaged communities scrambling for books and educational materials after December 2004’s tragedy in South­east Asia launched some of us at Pennsyl­vania’s Delaware County Library System (DCLS) into a fury of brainstorming. What could we do to help? We had books, but foreign countries often don’t want to receive English-language books. DCLS director David Belanger asked our 26 member libraries for ideas, and it soon became clear what we needed to do to raise funds to rebuild libraries in Southeast Asia. We would do what we did best: Hold a book sale.

Not just any book sale, though, a countywide book sale, the first one we’d ever held. Our goal was to raise funds to donate to the U.S. Library Associations Library Disaster Relief Fund, a multi-organizational charity formed shortly after the 2004 tsunami.

Beginning the Planning

There were several hurdles to clear in organizing the sale before we could even consider the marketing challenges. Proposing an additional book sale, especially one on a countywide scale, was a hard sell to our member libraries. Most libraries’ book sales represent a large portion of the Friends groups’ incomes, so they were naturally concerned that a countywide book sale would decrease their earnings. We reassured the concerned staff by staying focused on the goal, involving the libraries as much as possible, and representing libraries on book sale marketing pieces.

The first major step was forming a steering committee that consisted of about 12 people: DCLS staffers, employees from member libraries, board members, Friends, and volunteers. The committee decided to call it the “Heck-of-a-Good Book Sale,” since “countywide” didn’t have much of a ring to it. Once we had a goal and a catchy name, the next step was to determine where we were going to hold the largest book sale we’d ever planned.

Building Local Collaboration

Fortunately, we had developed a great relationship with marketing manager Jen Gorski from the Granite Run Mall, a shopping mall about a mile away from our system headquarters in Media, Pa. (Media is also the county seat and is centrally located.) I had met Gorski at a Delaware County Press Club luncheon months earlier, and DCLS staff had participated in the mall’s Kidgits Club “Book Blast!” event for children.

The mall was an ideal site for us. Its large center court could accommodate a lot of books and traffic, the location was central, and we could attract mall shoppers who may not be familiar with library services. The mall’s representatives liked the idea because it would draw library patrons who may not frequent the mall. Gorski gave us the center court on April 29, 30, and May 1, 2005.

The next problem was space: Where would we put all of these books before the sale? We knew that as soon as we announced donation collection we’d have to store thousands of books somewhere, and neither our headquarters building nor any of the libraries had room for them. Director David Belanger approached Jen Gorski and mall manager Ron Williams to ask if we could use a vacant storefront that was formerly a gym. When they agreed, we were excited because the large space was just what we’d need for hours and hours of sorting!

Now that we’d determined the “where” and “when,” we needed to tackle the “how.” The steering committee met to divide the different tasks necessary to make this a successful fundraising event. Committee members handled volunteer coordination, treasurer’s duties, programs, raffles, library card sign ups, and more. Through staff connections and book sale expertise, we acquired cash registers, baskets, aprons, and free rulers to give away. Belanger was in charge of soliciting sponsors, and the committee came up with library-themed names for different levels of donors: “Award Winner,” “A Classic,” “Best Seller,” and “Page Turner.” I was put in charge of publicity and marketing.

Two Waves of Promotional Activities

We knew that we’d have a more difficult job publicizing our book sale than the individual DCLS member libraries did, because the individual sales are usually held at the same time every year, and patrons pay attention to see when the next ones are. But people had never experienced a countywide sale, so we’d be starting from scratch.

The first wave of promotion announced the collection of items for the sale. Eight libraries volunteered to collect items for the whole month of March, so we used the line “March on In With Used Books.” The collection information—as well as the sale, sponsor, and post-event success information—was posted on our Web site at I also created 8.5 x 11-inch fliers to send to all libraries and donation-box signs for the eight libraries collecting items. These fliers, and the signage for the rest of the marketing, had similar colors and design template. I wanted to create a “Heck-of-a-Good Book Sale” brand, both to draw attention to our event and to distinguish this sale from the other individual libraries’ sales.

Next, I sent a press release to about 20 local newspapers to announce which libraries would be collecting and when. I sent a second press release when the Granite Run Mall started collecting items during the final 2 weeks of March. We knew the word got out, because during the month, DCLS libraries and the Granite Run Mall collected more than 20,000 books, videos, DVDs, CDs, and albums.

When March’s collection ended and April’s sorting began, I started the next wave of promotion: publicizing the sale itself. I created 8.5 x 11-inch fliers, similar in design to the collection fliers, announcing the dates and location of the sale. People in every DCLS member library hung the fliers, and the steering committee hung them in local businesses. The mall also donated the use of two 22 x 28-inch metal poster stands (inside the mall) and the use of one side of their outdoor lighted marquee (in the parking lot). These eye-catching displays really drew attention from passers-by and took our marketing to a whole new level.

Then I sent word to the press about the sale specifics. This third press release included a list of major sponsors, since we’d promised press listing as a sponsor benefit. The newspapers were very supportive in their coverage. After this release went out, I was able to shoot a photo of volunteers sorting books, videos, and albums and to send that out; many newspapers picked it up. At this point, I had thought it was a good idea to avoid sending yet another full release, so I sent just an expanded caption with the photo. Several newspapers and magazines were able to run the photo and a long caption more readily than a whole release. (We are fortunate to have a very active and supportive press in our area, and their coverage of this event went above and beyond.)

Once the word was out, I focused on the on-site signage. Using the “Heck-of-a-Good Book Sale” design and colors, I created genre signs for the sale tables. I also created 22 x 28-inch posters thanking all of the sponsors (another promised benefit). The DCLS director had the great idea of creating a flier that listed every DCLS member library book sale we were aware of to hand out to patrons at checkout. This piece wound up being a win-win handout, as people loved having all of that information in one place and libraries loved reaching their target audiences. We went through 500 fliers early in the first day of the sale, and I had to quickly photocopy more and run them over to the mall!

I made sure I took a lot of photos at the sale, both for our records and for follow-up publicity. After the sale ended, I sent a photo and press release to express appreciation to our sponsors and to announce that we’d raised $13,500 to rebuild libraries and educational institutions in tsunami-ravaged countries. We also placed a display ad in the Delaware County Daily Times especially thanking the Granite Run Mall as well as the rest of our generous sponsors. Local press printed the press release and photo, and we were excited to also obtain national coverage in American Libraries, Library Mosaics, and Library Hotline.

The Results Were Very Positive

Will we do it again? All I can say now is “most likely.” We had intentionally left the “annual” out of any wording in the promotion, so we could decide later whether or not to hold a countywide book sale every year. I have to admit, it was a hard couple of months. Along with our other regularly scheduled April events and National Library Week, we all had to work long hours to get ready for the event. But when we sent that $13,500 check to the U.S. Library Associations Library Disaster Relief Fund, and we knew it was going to rebuild the libraries that can strengthen individuals and communities, it made it all worthwhile. Plus, the collaborative relationships we’ve built with local organizations will pave the way for future library support projects.

As an added perk, I’m happy to announce that DCLS is the winner of the Pennsylvania Citizens for Better Libraries (PCBL) 2005 Award for Library Public Relations. We received the award at the annual Pennsylvania Library Association Conference in September.

Sara Gruber is public relations and grants coordinator at the Delaware County Library System in Media, Pa. She holds a B.A. in communication and theatre from McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. For the past 6 years, she has worked in public relations, marketing, and Web site development for ­several nonprofits. Her e-mail address is

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