Friends of the Library moves into new era of book sales

L.E. Phillips Memorial Library raises funds for programs with new permanent bookstore

Liam Flake

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Photo by Liam Flake

The Friends of the Library hosted its first book sale since the opening of the library’s renovated building this fall.

For the past twenty years, one of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Library’s biggest fundraisers was their book sale, a large, much anticipated sale known for its low prices (with the most expensive items priced at $2).

On Thursday, Dec. 1, and Saturday, Dec. 3, the Friends of the Library hosted its first book sale since the opening of the library’s renovated building this fall. However, this sale was only a fraction of the size of previous ones, and represented the first in a new era as the organization shifts its focus onto a new project: its permanent bookstore.

The book sale represents a longstanding tradition for the Friends of the Library. One volunteer at this past week’s sale was John Stoneberg, who has worked at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Library for over 40 years and formerly served as its director.

According to Stoneberg, the sale began in earnest around 2000. At this time, the book sales were hosted in the Eau Claire room of the current library building and occurred five times a year, featuring books priced at $2 and under, plus a deal for a bag of books for $5.

These sales were very popular, Stoneberg said, attracting hundreds of people over a span of a couple days and raising $5000 to $6000.

“People would line up with a bag to get in,” Becky Noland, president of the Friends of the Library, said.

The large-scale sales ended with the construction of the new library; however, the Friends of the Library was able to accomplish a long time goal: the addition of a permanent, full-time bookstore.

“What you’re seeing here is a very small book sale compared to ones that we’ve traditionally had,” Stoneberg said.

With the bookstore in place, there was no need for the regular full sales. Noland described the new one as a “book sale of convenience” that was put together to advertise the store to attendees of the adjacent train show.

According to Stoneberg, the idea of a bookstore in the library is one that has been around for a while, born from the stock of books gathered from items that were either discarded from the library’s inventory or donated.

“People really want to donate their books, especially certain times of the year when they are cleaning out their attics or closets,” he said.

The bookstore, located in the library’s basement, is open during all library hours and is staffed by volunteers. The prices are consistent with those of the book sales, ranging from 25 cents to $2. 

One person involved in the operation of the bookstore is Friends of the Library administrative assistant Astrid Hayden.

According to Hayden, with some exceptions (such as classics), the bookstore aims to keep its inventory new, only selling books up to seven years old.

Another aspect of book sales that arose in the wake of COVID-19 for the Friends of the Library has come in the form of online sales. These books, which are sold through sites such as Libris and Amazon, among others, typically have higher value than those available via in-person sales.

“People will donate us some books that are worth quite a bit of money or the library will de-acquisition some books that were very expensive to start with,” Noland said.

From there, she said, the books are evaluated by a team of appraisers, put online, and typically sold quickly.

These items also tend to have some variety or novelty — Stoneberg recalled that one of the first online sales was that of a book on the history of fountain pens for $75, and Noland said that a recent sale was that of a 14 volume set on Lewis and Clark for $560.

“What’s kind of fun about the online bookstore, too, is that we actually sell it to people all over the world, you know: Australia, Sweden, Canada,” Stoneberg said.

All of the proceeds raised by the Friends of the Library — online, through the bookstore, or in their pop up sales — go towards supporting library programs.

These expenses specifically include things like prizes for children and young adult programs, books for the summer reading program, and bringing authors to Eau Claire for the Chippewa Valley Book Fest, Hayden said.

The Friends of the Library is also always in need of volunteers for roles such as running the bookstore or appraising books. Interested individuals can go to the library’s website to learn more or register.

Flake can be contacted at [email protected]