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Magazines > Searcher > March 2008
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Vol. 16 No. 3 — March 2008
Library Book Sales
Cleaning House or Cleaning Up?
by Cecilia Hogan
Director, University Relations Research, University of Puget Sound

Library book sales can be the stuff of dreams for both library supporters and book lovers. For book lovers, each sale offers an instant expansion of that collection of cookbooks, mystery novels, or gardening how-to’s for just a few dollars. Paperbacks might cost only 50 cents and hardbacks a dollar or so. By the end of the sale, when books are sold by the bag, things get even better for the buyers. What a deal! Children walk away with sacks full of Richard Scarry and Dr. Seuss and sellers save post-sale muscle and haul away time.

Small libraries might make a few thousand dollars from a successful book sale. Large libraries often create a highly anticipated event and a key fundraising moment. The Friends of the San Francisco Public Library reported $247,000 in sales for its 42nd Big Book Sale. The group sold 130,000 books in 40 hours. That’s a good weekend of fundraising for any nonprofit.

But wait. Let’s do the math on moving 130,000 books to book buyers. That’s less than 2 bucks a book, a fantastic deal for book lovers when paperbacks are priced at $5 and up by other book dealers.

Welcome to the New World, Columbus

Years ago, there were few exceptions to the 50-cent or $1 pricing scheme for book sales. With thousands of books to sell, sale operators met the age-old marketing problem of too much product for too few customers. The imperative to move the books out of the library system outweighed aspirations of finesse. Think of forklifts instead of tote bags on the library end of this operation. But the electronic world offers savvy library supporters a new avenue for valuing books and for raising badly needed library revenues.

Libraries notice a thing or two about book buyers. The first ones through the sale door now are book resellers. Right behind them come the book lovers. Like most types of love, this isn’t the kind that is at its best in measures of volume. It’s the kind of love that prospers in its nuances. With each rare or old book that reveals itself, love blooms.

Love at First Sight

Some of us approach library book sales a bit differently than the folks looking for bags of books at an enormous discount. We spend our time and money in the first hours or at the “patrons only” presale event. We generally don’t make it to that last day of bags’ worth of selling.

While our fellow book shoppers snatch Tom Clancy, Julia Child, and Sue Grafton books off the tables, we stroll the crowded aisles scanning the book spines for qualities that set our hearts aflutter. We look for hardbacks with cloth covers. We watch spines for fonts from other eras. Just like singles cruising the dance club on a Friday night, we see the qualities that attract us and then we make our move. In a slight upturn from the approach of dance hall denizens, for us its age first, content second.

I collect baseball and cowboy books that appealed to teenage boys in the 1940s and 1950s. I also collect old Dr. Seuss books. Since I’m not in the buying and reselling game, library book sales are a great place to expand my collections. I am not alone in my quest.

Love From the Best Lovers

My brother Billy spent his work life employed by the Library of Congress. He began as a young tour guide in the 1970s. His last job was, in part, a finder of lost things — library items accidentally thrown out of their Dewey order. I like to think that he was the Indiana Jones of the LC.

It was fascinating to go to a used book store with Billy. The rest of us burst through the door to cruise the aisles for that paperback Kurt Vonnegut or Emily Dickinson that had escaped our collection. Billy slowed instead. Gently easing a book off its resting place by its back and not by its fragile head cap, he would turn a book over, moving his careful eyes to the edges. He’d tip the book so that its cover fell open into his waiting left hand. The hinge came under his close inspection. Bindings finished with silk or cotton thread delighted him.

Billy is a good model of the type of patron library book sales love to see. While Billy led us into the world of old books, our library book sales also offer us a glimpse into the realm of rare books.

Rarity is a measure developed from many angles. Signed copies, limited printings, first editions, and books owned by the renowned represent a few of the conditions that warrant a review of value.

Older Can Be Better

Like the most advanced cultures, books with age have an opportunity to be viewed as valuable when they are unique and in relatively good condition. Many ex libris books cannot meet these requirements because the love they have experienced has worn them out. Library markings in a book have been the death knell on value for even first editions. Traditionally, book collectors simply won’t pursue marked books. But library book sales have become an amalgamation of library cast-offs and books donated to the library. And, for some lucky libraries looking for fundraising opportunities, a few donated books reflect that patina of age and care that attracts book collectors.

So, what’s a library — or the friends of the library — with thousands of aged books to do? How can library supporters learn the value of a few dozen or many more books heading for row upon row of sale tables? And is it worth it?

The answer to the second question is easy. Sharpen your math pencil again. A few dozen books selling for $30 or $50 each instead of $1 would add up to a significant increase in revenue for a small-to-medium book sale. Web-smart Billys give a library a chance to fine-tune its pricing plan for those special books. And why shouldn’t the library make the “real” money, instead of that first rush of book resellers pushing through the door to the sale area?

A Note of Caution

We are living in a world where the answers to nearly everything are a keystroke or two away. Look what happened with real estate values after the arrival of Zillow []. As quickly as we crowed home values across the kitchen to our cohorts, the what’s-it-really-worth debate began. Everyone became an armchair appraiser, a backyard evaluator. While Zillow got our attention, amateur valuators were already estimating the worth of cars, antiques, art, and, oh yes, books.

Sshhh . . . let’s take a moment to listen to the calm (if mildly exasperated) voices of professional appraisers. Market value is the actual price a willing buyer will pay a willing seller, they remind us. It is not an asking price. Professional appraisals are based on a methodical review of the market for comparable products. Appraisals of anything — real estate, jewelry, art, and even books — are best completed by professional appraisers.

The American Society of Appraisers (ASA)

The ASA identifies itself as the oldest organization representing all disciplines of appraisal specialists. Its website resources include an open forum discussion board where gems, paintings, furniture, and other objects of value are discussed, though rather infrequently by all appearances. But librarians and their supporters are resourceful. Perhaps there is an electronic friend or two to be made in this venue.

In the meantime, we will find an historical sale price or two but, for the most part, we will have to settle for asking prices for books.

The DIY Appraiser

First, allow me to make a blanket apology to all professional appraisers who are cringing over what they can see coming. If there is any room for forgiveness, it lies in the reality that we of the small nonprofits, including libraries, have few resources but a lot of creativity.

We just have to get the rules of the game straight. What we are doing is make-believe. At best, it has a step-relationship to real appraising. We amateurs play with valuing objects, but our conclusions and the tools we use to make them are child’s play compared to the work of professional appraisers.

Nonetheless, sometimes “ballpark” appraising is the only option. You know what ballpark appraising is, right? Picture yourself sitting a few dozen rows up from first base when a big slugger hits a high one that sails into the outfield and over the wall. You can hear your seatmates estimating the distance. That’s ballpark appraising — an unscientific shot at a measure. It won’t buy an insurance policy, a tax deduction, or a place in a record book, but it might be better than a buck. That said, let’s go for it. The payback may well make the time spent worth it.

Hey! Where’s Google in This?

First, a word or two about the world’s biggest search engine and the next great thing for book lovers.

Google folks are working hard on their plan to offer full-text searching of millions and millions of books. Google Book Search remain in beta form — officially — at this writing. While designed for readers and others who love books, it has cool features that may come in handy for library book sale organizers and pricers. Once you have a (free) registration with Google and you enter the Google Book Search mode [], you can add titles to your virtual library and establish a place to save your finds. You can label, rate, and text search many of the books you add to your library. Like all things Google, accessibility and community rule. You can visit your library from any log-on location and you can share your library (with book sale comrades, for example).

Each Google Books search offers users several options, including Search in the book, Find this book in a library, and Buy this book. The latter option is a set of links to booksellers and publisher websites.

Let’s note this as the long road to valuing a book with some interesting way stations. If you find yourself trying to determine the content match for books of different years or editions — something that a peek inside might resolve — this resource could come in handy. At the Google Book Search page, just click on About Google Book Search to learn more. There are plenty of intriguing options for you to explore.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to stand in the way of you and a general Google search. If you do not want to use Google Books, but instead see general searching as your route, go for it. Those who have advanced search skills (or know how to use the advanced search page well) may discover a few good leads down this road. Naturally, you will have to slog your way through more search results than you ever wanted to see. You might have better luck if you tighten up those search terms. You may even get there without spending more time than anyone trying to move masses of books has ever expended.

So, Google away, dear reader, but as the farmer working next to the country road told the city slicker in the dust-covered convertible, “Ya’ll cain’t get thar from here.” Unless you have time to mosey through millions of small towns … er, websites, you better try some of the following direct routes for ballpark estimating the price you might set for an old book.

Resources for Pricing Books

No compilation of book-pricing resources can be comprehensive. Let the resources outlined here serve as a preliminary guide. As you find additional resources, try to share them with your interested colleagues in other locales.

BiblioBot — The Instant Appraiser

PBA Galleries, a rare book auctioneer and appraiser firm, conducts live and online auctions of books, maps, manuscripts, and photographs. PBA Galleries offers a handy tool for the casual book pricer. BiblioBot, “the instant appraiser,” is a simple search tool that allows the user to fill in the name of the book, the author, the publication year, the publisher, and the book’s condition.

We amateurs may not know much about evaluating the condition of books. BiblioBot has a handy help page to educate us. Click on the Question Mark box next to the condition data entry field and an easy guide to condition evaluation will open. Descriptions ranging from poor (“covers with a lot of wear, scratches, tears”) to very fine (“a rare condition . . . . pages clean, and with no scuffs, marks, dents, bruises”) will help you learn to easily assess the condition of one or many books.

BiblioBot encourages you to modify your search if no results are returned. Simplifying the name of the publisher, for example, broadens the opportunity to review a list of hits.

A couple of years ago I purchased a copy of Curiosities of Glass Making by Apsley Pellatt at my hometown library book sale. I paid $30 for this charming book. Pellatt gets credit for being the first person to use the term “millefiori,” a technique familiar to those of us sporting “I ™ Chihuly” bumper stickers. Pellatt’s book was printed in 1849 and my copy is in poor condition, according to PBA Galleries’ condition guide. Curiosities’ edges are frayed and its joint is weak.

Nonetheless, BiblioBot placed a value of $70 to $115 on Curiosities. But BiblioBot thought the book was published about 100 years after my copy was published. When I fine-tuned the search, BiblioBot returned no value at all. There may have been an error in this, but I decided to continue looking.

Before leaving the PBA Galleries site, I glanced through the current catalog. The day I looked I found a “paperback original, first edition” of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury up for auction with an anticipated low/high price of $200 to $300. A first edition of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics was expected to fetch $300 to $500. There are several flavors of Stephen King — hardbacks, paperbacks, signed copies — enough King magic to make the best bookseller perk up and pay attention.

Notice where we are now, fortifying fundraising opportunities with a bit of web research. BiblioBot even has a hall of fame. Get ready for “Antiques Roadshow” meets the world of old books. The values in the BiblioBot Hall of Fame could become a great motivator for getting better values for those old books tossed into a library book sale. A first edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird sits in the Hall of Fame with a sale price of $6,900. Imagine pulling a book like that out of a box of donated books.

PBA Galleries offers visitors the option to consign books. Consignment is placing a sale item into the hands of a third party but retaining ownership until the goods are sold. There are minimum values for opening a consignment account including a minimum per-item value, so this may not be an option for small library book sellers. Choose the Consign/Sell tab on the menu to learn more.

Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA)

This antiquarian book traders group sets standards for its members and for the trade. It also offers visitors a Find a Book search tool that locates books available for sale by ABAA members. Search by author, title, or keyword.

I found my Curiosities in Glass Making again and this time the publication year of 1849 was a match. The value (or asking price)? Gasp — $1,350. My personal assets are increasing by the minute. The book value was reported by the Bookpress, a click away from the ABAA site. “We could find no copy presently for sale on the internet and only two complete copies (both in poor, shaken condition) for sale at auction during the past thirty years,” Bookpress tells us. See me copying brother Billy as I cradle my now more precious Curiosities.

The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers

The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) has created a website representing more than 2,000 booksellers and 20 national associations of Antiquarian Booksellers. Use the advanced search engine to enter book title, author, keywords, publishing date, and other factors. Fine-tune your search by checking boxes for dust cover, first edition, signed, hardcover, or paperback. Or, if you prefer, simply browse the catalogs of books for sale. There are plenty of resources for book-pricing, including a glossary, a dictionary, links to other resources, a forum, a mailing list, and a newsletter.

If you have books to sell and wish to consult with an ILAB bookseller, the bookseller search feature will get you to the right person. There are options to retrieve lists of online booksellers only, booksellers with email, and booksellers who specialize in one of many points of interest about books, such as autographs, maps, cinema, art, prints, and more. There is also a process that leads to becoming a registered ILAB bookseller.

No luck finding my Curiosities in Glass Making here, unfortunately. That reminds us of why we look under more than one rock when seeking shiny, hidden things, doesn’t it?


Billing itself as “the book search wizard,” BibliOz offers visitors “a magical portal to millions of out-of-print books.” Note the limiting factor — effective searching here is confined to books no longer in print. My Curiosities in Glass Making fits that description. I couldn’t imagine any search option not offered here. You can search by title, author, publisher, topic, binding, price range, keyword, country where the book may be located, and more.

BibliOz found a copy of Curiosities in the U.K. for $113 U.S. And here is a simple lesson in book (or any) research: Everything is in the details. By reading the description, you can easily see that the book identified is a 1968 facsimile reprint of the 1849 edition.

Since its primary business is to electronically aggregate commercial booksellers for easy access to books marketed across the globe, BibliOz does not offer a service to individuals trying to sell a few books.

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

I’m discovering that I’m pretty lucky. Remember that I said I collect Dr. Seuss books? To be specific, I collect early editions of hardback Seuss books. I have not confined myself to first editions and do not mind ex libris copies in good shape. I am a casual collector; if I come across a bit of Seuss at the book sale, I paw through them looking for the oldest ones, hoping to find a copy or two to add to my collection. I buy them because I like them. I have no money-making motive. That said, let’s check out the prices for one of my 1-buck Seuss books.

Dr. Seuss’ Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? was published in 1973. In it, an old man reminds a young boy (and we readers) how lucky we are with the lives we have. I used the ABAA site to look for prices for this Seuss book. A company named the Book, L.C. sets the price of my Seuss at $350. Wow. Where did I put those other Seuss books I purchased?

I decided to fortify my value impressions by triangulating. Prices posted at another source or two would bolster my conclusions. BiblioBot reported that a fair condition copy of Lucky has a value of $3 to $500. ILAB has a copy in “near fine” condition for $350. That’s quite a range, but all the prices are well beyond that picture of George Washington I gave up for my Seuss.

BookFinder aggregates the sales of thousands of online booksellers, boasting of 125 million books in its cache. The simple search engine asks for author, title, and language. Other options are type (new or used), features (edition, signed), and country of destination. Select More Options and you can add keywords and other things to your search.

It’s the mother lode for Lucky. The search returns copies of Lucky ranged from a bit more than $30 up to (gulp) $1,200.

BookFinder has other features we like to see. It keeps track of my searches and shows me a list of recent searches by others using BookFinder. Web log links are prominently displayed on the search page.


AddAll views itself as the biggest book database because it searches all the major booksellers at once. In its search for Lucky, AddAll found copies ranging from a few dollars to about $25. AddAll has two particularly cool features: a Memo function to save your best matches, and a link to search for books on eBay. Since AddAll is a route to where books are sold, it does not provide book selling service directly.

I didn’t tell you yet where the Lucky books are that AddAll found. Addall wound up in my backyard, at Amazon.


Another easy-to-access pricing resource waits right under our fingertips. The granddaddy of online book selling,, offers searchers access to used books via a direct route to book dealers visible in the results. From a slightly different perspective, we might imagine Amazon as a handy tool for library supporters trying to price books. The 1973 copies of my Seuss book had prices ranging from $15 to $100 on used book seller sites Amazon shared with me.

From a buck to 15 to 1,200. That’s a big range. It would be too big to deal with if we were trying for accuracy. But our hopes lie in increasing the returns from a buck-a-book fundraiser that supports a library. If a buyer gets a good deal and a library gets support, happiness rules on all fronts. Would you agree?

To eBay or Not to eBay?

Imagine an e-street lined with booths full of booksellers. To be accurate, most of the booths are run by auctioneers. And it’s that crazy sort of auction you’ve stumbled onto at the local flea market, the sort with every Tom, Dick, and Mary bidding on that doodad with the twinkly bits that reminds them of the one they had when they were a kid. “Value be hanged, I want that thing!” you hear Mary whisper to Dick. While this moment appears to fit our definition of market value — a willing buyer and a willing seller — an auction generates dramatic elements that distort market value. The cross-section of bidders from resellers to nostalgists depresses or elevates value depending on the day. Savvy auction participants “snipe” by hovering in the last seconds before the auction ends to cut in with a final bid only cents above the one that might’ve won.

For our topic of valuing and selling books, there are other dilemmas to face when we think about eBay. Let’s take a second to imagine eBay as our virtual book sale hall. It is the rare library that would have a volunteer dedicated enough to set up an eBay page and then, book by book, manage auction sales, ship the parcels to the winning bidders, and return the profits (less expenses) to the library or friends of the library.

If we think of eBay as another pricing mechanism, we encounter other problems. It is also the rare library lover who could effectively use eBay to evaluate book values. The values could not be based on ongoing auctions since there is no final price for those items. The opening prices for still-to-end auctions vary widely and have little to do with the final price. Some sellers offer a “buy it now” option. Library book valuators might compare that asking price to ones found on the other sites outlined here. Some sellers offer information about comparable sales or asking prices in the descriptions they write. Those references should be easy to verify and may provide an interesting lead or two.

Books for sale on eBay are organized in categories such as Antiquarian & Collectible, Nonfiction, Children’s Books, Fiction Books, Textbooks, Wholesale and Bulk Lots, Cookbooks, and more. The Antiquarian & Collectible category is further broken down into nearly 2 dozen descriptive categories such as Americana, Art & Photography, History, Military & War, Philosophy, Sports, and Vintage Paperbacks.

On the day of this writing, there were more than 75,000 open auctions in the Antiquarian & Collectible category on eBay. I hope I’m not hit by lightening as I write this, but 75,000 books are not that many. There was no listing for Curiosities of Glass Making, of course, although I was offered the opportunity to submit a “Want It Now” posting. Then I’d sit and wait to hear from someone with a copy to sell, right? No, not for me, thank you.

I found three copies of Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? in the children’s books category on eBay. Since they were open auctions, the price (not value) at the point of review was immaterial. Auctions on eBay often open with bids of $1 or less.

Users can search completed auctions by checking the “completed listings only” on the advanced search page. You will still get what I call “just about completed listings,” since eBay is hoping you are ready to bid on something. With my sour opinion in mind (was she a victim of sniping too many times?), we could say that reviewing the auction history for a book that interests you is worthwhile in a voyeuristic sort of way.

Think I’m being too critical? Take my hand, Friend, and come along with me to an auction. I reviewed the bids for a first edition of Seuss’ Green Eggs & Ham. Those bids rose from a starting offer just under $50 on a steady climb to nearly $150, to suddenly jump to $200, then catapult in one bid to more than $450, only to be sniped in the last 3 seconds of the auction by a rival bidder (whose moniker included r-i-v-a-l) for $5 more. Whew! That’s exhausting. And it is no way to value books for a library sale. “Rival” is one of a kind, I bet, an aggressive collector who isn’t likely to be shopping library book sales. If Rival shows up, stand aside!

Other Auction Resources

But online auctions do solve a problem for librarians looking to get more for their sales effort. These auctions expand the potential buyer market to a national and even international level. No longer are you limited to book buyers within driving distance who happen to have the time and interest and happen to have seen your promotional material.

You may still choose the mass market pricing for local library sales, but first try eyeballing the books scheduled for the sale. Pull out ones that look promising. Run them through the evaluation process using some or all of the sites above. Then set aside books that meet your standards for money-making prospects and auction those.

When it comes to auctions, there are many routes to explore. Auctionguide and the Americana Exchange offer you a glimpse at the options available. is a gathering place for auctions and auctioneers. Use the search engine or the directory organized by keyword to locate online and traditional auctions worldwide. The auction calendar provides information by location or by auctioneer. The Tips ’n Hints section gives users a short glossary of terms, an outline of why items are sold at auction, and an elementary education in bidding at auctions.

The Americana Exchange (AE)

To facilitate its goal to build a community of book collectors and dealers, the Americana Exchange offers a free auction index and a free book-for-sale listing service. Its AE Monthly publication is, according to the website, “the most widely read periodical in the book collecting field.” Attractive tools at this site include 2006 auction results and a new feature associated with its premium content, a tool that allows subscribers “to convert older prices to current values” for books located through its Bibliographical Database. This database is a part of AE’s revenue stream, giving collectors and dealers access to 1.6 million full-text records of book collectors and auction houses. It is a collection of catalogues that AE claims has no rival. AE’s “matchmaker” service scours auction sites and eBay to locate the book you are seeking and pushes the results to you via daily emails.

AE’s Books for Sale link offers visitors the option to search for books via keyword, author, title, place printed, and other factors. Its International Booksellers’ Directory (IBSD) connects dealers and collectors. There is no charge to join AE’s IBSD directory and a small charge for additional enhancements to a listing.

The Road Best Traveled

In a perfect world, libraries would have adequate budgets to have books appraised. Or, barring that, libraries would have cadres of volunteer appraisers who could help a library maximize the fundraising effort that is a book sale.

If you are a book evaluator for a library, learning more about appraisers is worth the time. You may decide to visit one of the many online book appraisers. Google will get you to them, of course.

After that, you are on your own. Experience would be the teacher in this arena. Some appraisers can value books from a distance and price their work by groups of books rather than the individual book. Prices vary and quality of service probably does too.

Man, the Once-a-Year Book Sale Is So . . . Yesterday

Library Book Sales, the nonprofit is a giant library book sale all day, every day. Libraries anywhere can join to sell donated books. Sales of library copies are discouraged since “most serious book buyers don’t want to own books that look like they were permanently borrowed from their public library.” Members get some coaching about how to evaluate and price books. There is a chat room. The commission, 10%, is based on sale price.

I bet you are imagining the ways this resource might work for you. Unsold books carrying beyond-a-buck prices at the last book sale might get a change to find a buyer on this site. Or your first foray into the concept of special prices for books might happen here. The risk is perfectly balanced — not much to lose, a lot to gain.

Excuse Me — When Is the Next Book Sale?

Admit it. You are looking for book deals now. They are not hard to find. Many libraries have links to their foundation or “friends of the library” page where their upcoming book sales are advertised. But there is an easier way to track the sales.

Book Sale Finder

Operating since 1994, Book Sale Finder offers a handy state map to locate book sales near you. View the list of sales by state. Don’t expect to find everything here — some of the bigs are missing — but it is a beginning. Now I am thinking about how much fun a library book sale road trip would be . . .

Those Seeking Higher Ground: Walk This Way

You are going to love this story. In the early 2000s, a couple of Midwest college pals were trying to find a way to make money. They fell on the idea of selling their used textbooks online. In the blink of an eye, they’d sold their books, their roommates’ books, and any other books they could loosen from the clutches of fellow students. Soon they organized a book drive at their school.

That first effort to sell college textbooks has grown into Better World Books (BWB) [], a book-dealing company with an adjunct mission of global literacy. BWB added a third finance-smart friend to the mix and has collected more than 10 million books and raised millions of dollars for literacy and education causes. Check the mission and history strings at this site for the charming entrepreneurial and philanthropic story these young men created.

More than 750 libraries now use Better World Books’ service to sell their discarded books online. BWB donates a percentage of sales to literacy nonprofits. From my perch, equations don’t get much better than this. But then, as happens in stories of the perfect moment that emerges in stories that effectively couple enterprise and philanthropy, the news actually does get better. BWB’s goal is to sell books at market value, thus improving the return for its library partners. Stay on that good news ride for a minute because BWB has an Antiquarian, Rare and Collectible Book (ARC) department. Let’s just say it: Where have you been all our lives, BWB? Visit the website to review the book acceptance guidelines (library markings okay!), payment arrangements, and other details of this fascinating operation created by the brilliant Xavier, Jeff, and Kreece.

Final Words

We are standing in the creative wing of library book sales when we amateurs try to apply an accurate price to old or rare books. Keep in mind that the true value of a book lies not in the price set but in the presence of a buyer willing to pay that price. The multipliers in play when the book-for-a-dollar formula changes are only meaningful if there is a return on the effort. The books so priced must sell, in other words.

Library book sale operators have to know the composite identity of their customers. Can your community support a “special books” table? Pre-sale events, designed with access available for an additional fee, can help lift book lovers with deeper pockets out of the masses.

Do you know that moment on a game show when you are shouting at the contestant from your living room, “Take the money, you fool!”? That would be worth keeping in mind when you play with book values. You might not need to get the higher end of the range of values you uncover to significantly increase your library’s return. The grand total raised remains the focus, not the price for each book.

In Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Seuss wrote, “Thank goodness you’re not something someone forgot, and left all alone in some punkerish place like a rusty tin coat hangar hanging in space.” I can hear the whispered sighs from the pages of the old and rare books resting in boxes, waiting for the next library book sale, now happy that you will match them with book lovers ready to appreciate their value.

A Cup of Coffee and a Blog: What Better Way to Spend Half a Day?

OK, if you like your book-selling information with a good dose of data about the cat, the coffee, the traffic, and the weather, check out a blog or two. Notice the flashing caution signs. Go to a blog and hear the sucking sound as your next 2 hours vanish. Oh, and guess what? Commercial booksellers have blogs. Check out the blogs and forums on the sites mentioned in this article first. For example, Bookfinder’s blog is at


This blog is the American Booksellers Association site to provide a “regular update on bookselling, retail, authors” and more.


This blog is operated by a bookseller and designed for used book lovers and sellers.

Better World Books Blog

Go ahead and spend a couple of hours with the BWB kids. If you get away from the site without pining to get involved, I owe you a dollar.

What If It’s Not a Book?

Libraries often sell things that are not books. Music and movies come to mind. We who attend library book sales look through stacks of CDs, DVDs or older formats to take home, all priced at a dollar or two, as a rule. We could spend another article discussing collectible music. We would examine LPs, album art, misprints, and more. But, like I said, that would be in another article. Then there’s the other stuff.

Stuff. What “stuff?” A behind-the-scenes tour at the Library of Congress many years ago allowed me to glance at some of the stuff a library might hold. On that magical morning I saw the Wright Brothers’ log book, a casting of Abraham Lincoln’s hands, and drawings by Frederick Olmsted, among other “stuff.” That’s when I realized that a library, quite literally, is more than books.

So, what can a library with nonbook objects to “move” do? It is a big question that can be the focus of deeper research. Here are three points to keep in mind:

  1. Review your agreement with the donor. If your obligation was to keep the object in perpetuity, why bother trying to consider its sale value?

  2. If you have the option to sell the object, use our book valuing exploration as a model for locating tools to analyze or rate the object and begin to determine value. Start your project with appraisers who value that type of object. Next, search for collectors.

  3. Most likely the object is unique in ways that books are not. It may be handmade or a one-of-a-kind art object, for example, not one of many books in a run (even if now rare). It is likely that valuing the object will rely on locating a well-respected local appraiser. Value your time and choose this course first when you deal with unique objects that have few comparables.

When it comes to these nonlibrary types of objects, it might be worth a little greater effort. The impetus for writing this article came from my editor, who called in a lather over an episode of Antique Roadshow (actually more than one episode), in which an individual with a Navajo rug gotten for a few bucks from a library sale found to their joy that it was worth tens of thousands. Think about the librarian watching that show. What weeping and gnashing of teeth? Not only did the community supporting the library end up losing all that money, but they lost it because the librarian, their staff information professional, either couldn’t or wouldn’t use information sources to prevent the loss. For the librarian and the library, the injury is compounded by the insult.

Cecilia Hogan is the director of University Relations Research at the University of Puget Sound. She is the author of Prospect Research: A Primer for Growing Nonprofits (2007, 2nd edition: Jones & Bartlett).
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