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Used book sale awaits readers

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The doors won't open until 9 a.m. Saturday, but hundreds of people will start lining up outside the Charleston Civic Center more than an hour early.

It's not a major concert. It's not the circus. The event is free to attend, and just about everything available for purchase at it can be had for $3 or less.

It's the Kanawha County Public Library's annual used book sale, part of the West Virginia Book Festival, this weekend at the Charleston Civic Center.

Nearly 30 years ago, the used book sale started when librarians stacked boxes of books on the Kanawha County Public Library's front steps and sold them to passersby, said Pam May, chairwoman of the Book Festival.

The sale moved to the walkway next to the Charleston library, then to the city parking garage on Dickinson Street, then to a building on Brawley Walkway and, finally, to the Civic Center.

The West Virginia Book Festival -- in its 12th year -- started when library workers realized they could offer more to the 4,000 people who were attending the used book sale, May said.

"When I started working here 15 years ago, we had the used book sale in the four parlors at the Civic Center. We had to count the number of people who came in because the fire marshal allowed only so many people in," May recalled. "We had to stop the line and let more people in as others left. We outgrew the parlors and now we have it in the South Hall."

The space still isn't big enough for the nearly 8,000 bookworms who visit the used book sale now, May said, but no other location offers enough space.

Before the thousands of readers stroll through the thousands and thousands of used books, someone has to arrange them by category on tables in the Civic Center.

The library collects books year-round. Piles of them are donated when people move away, a family member dies or when the library weeds out its own collection, May said. Seven community volunteers work throughout the year just to sort the books at the library. The books are slipped onto shelves relevant to their topic. (Books that are not in good condition -- mold and missing pages are the main issues -- aren't part of the sale.)

Volunteers then put the books in boxes that have color-coded labels depending on the genre. Boxes labeled "biography" are stacked on top of "mystery," "medicine," and "craft and hobbies." The boxes are stored in a warehouse on Bigley Avenue.

About 50 volunteers and library employees will help unpack the 1,100 boxes of books Friday, the day before the Book Festival opens. Trucks full of boxes on pallets are unloaded.

One group of volunteers makes sure the color-coded labels match the genre identified on tables inside the Civic Center while another group of volunteers neatly places them on the rows of tables.

"It's a very grueling day because those boxes are so heavy," May said, "but we put a lot of hard work into this event, so it's gratifying to see how many people show up for it and are waiting in line to do it."

The Kanawha County Public Library makes an average of $29,000 during the used book sale, May said. Part of the money goes back into the Book Festival, while the rest is used for a grant process within the library system. Library workers can request the money for programs or necessary items for the library itself.

The library's series of free concerts in February, called Sunday Jams, is funded by profits from the used book sale, May said.

Even though thousands of booklovers buy thousands of books during the used book sale, there still can be many books left over when the sale ends at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Fortunately for local nonprofit groups, the library welcomes them to take any books that are still scattered on the tables Sunday afternoon. They can do whatever they want with them, May said, but she thinks most of them add the books to their own libraries.

Step by Step, Covenant House, Read Aloud West Virginia and the Southern Appalachia Labor School are some of the organizations that will clear out the rest of the books, May said.

People who buy books at the used book sale are of all ages, May said. She has seen people carry books away in little red wagons, small carts and tote bags. Audiobooks, DVDs and CDs also are for sale.

The used book sale is Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Attendees can buy a bag of books for $2 and a box for $5 all day Sunday. Cash, checks and credit card are accepted. Admission to the event itself is free.

For more information about the used book sale, visit http://wvbookfestival.org/booksale.html or call 304-343-4646.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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