Cambrian: Opinion

Volunteers created a bestseller: The gently used bookstore at Cambria Public Library

Judy Butler, left, and Barbara Gray Bronson share a laugh at the used bookstore at the Cambria Public Library.
Judy Butler, left, and Barbara Gray Bronson share a laugh at the used bookstore at the Cambria Public Library.

I’ve always honored libraries as public warehouses of wisdom, information, entertainment and knowledge. Information technology provides much. But technology depends on things like the power grid to exist — something a library can likely exist without. Other than fire or flood, books are not subject to hackers with devious intentions.

Our local public library remains a relevant resource. And thanks to Cambria’s volunteering spirit, the library includes the bonus of a bookstore that brings quality and gently used books at amazing prices to the community. For instance, I recently picked up a like-new historical review of the American Revolution, “The First Salute,” for just $3. With change to spare, I also bought a perfect condition 1,000-piece puzzle for $2.

This is unique to Cambria, said Friends of the Library president Jeri Farrell: Very few libraries offer a clean, well lit and organized used bookstore open to the community.

Also what makes this volunteer-operated bookstore special is the quality of books for sale.

“Cambria has to be the most literate community judging by the caliber of books donated to us,” Friends of the Library vice president Jacquie Kennedy said. “The quality of the books is remarkable.”

The success of this bookstore goes to the Friends of the Library volunteers who admitted that their days of hauling boxes of donated books for sale to the Vet’s Hall, then repacking the unsold books and hauling them back for storage until the next sale date, was not a positive reality for its 55-and-over volunteer base. So a space was carved out in the new library on Main Street for book sales. It benefits San Luis Obispo County public libraries beyond expectations. The bookstore recently donated $40,000 to the county library system, a portion of which went to purchasing e-books for library users.

Sales from the bookstore also supports the Joen Kommer Education Fund, which grants funding to a student studying library science.

In five years, the bookstore volunteers have made a difference, but not without a few pages of trial, error and creativity.

The volunteers assure fresh inventory. “We don’t want to be a museum,” Kennedy said.

When donations arrive, which include hardcover, softcover and pocket books, CD/mp3 audio books, DVDs, music CDs, current magazines and puzzles, the volunteers are tasked with the following:

Price the product.

Identifies with a sticker the month and day the product went on the shelves.

If unsold after three months, the product is reduced to $1 and moved to the bargain shelves.

If left on the shelf for three months, special books, those that might have a special value, are reduced to half price.

If the product remains unsold it is then, if appropriate, donated to the San Luis County Jail or donated to Bayside Care Center in Morro Bay.

About 15 volunteers regularly staff the bookstore that opens and closes around the library’s hours. Ten other volunteers serve as substitutes when needed.

Friends of the Library volunteers, left to right, Judy Butler, Teri Farrell, and Jacquie Kennedy. Courtesy photo

Reasons to visit and shop the Friends of the Library Bookstore to purchase quality and gently used books are plentiful:

Save money.

Used books are environmentally friendly, saving millions of trees and millions of tons of CO2.

E-readers are great, but some books must be printed and bound to read.

The Friends of the Library Bookstore will not shelve musty, moldy or worn books.

Judy Butler was the behind the counter taking in sales while I visited the bookstore. Barbara Bronson Gray came in for some paperwork, and said to Butler, “This is a happy place. When I’m grumpy about the universe, this is a good place to go.”

As a former bookstore owner, that was the best definition I ever heard for a bookstore. I suppose it’s the shelves of ideas, stories, adventures and information that percolate into the air where many books stand, and beckons one to simply open a book.

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I opened the book on this column, By the Way We Give in June 2015. The monthly editions began with a profile on Judy Butler who still volunteers to maintain the gardens at the Joslyn Center. Three years later, it is time to close this By the Way We Give “book” about volunteers and volunteering tips. When life interrupts, we place a bookmark between the pages to return to where we left off.

I’ll place a bookmark here, and hope that we can each continue to give in the best way possible, be it a simple smile toward a stranger or a remarkable gift to our favorite nonprofit, for our legacy will always be by the way we give.

Charmaine Coimbra’s column is special to The Cambrian.