More Adventures in the World of Used Books

The Raleigh Jaycee's booksale that took place today was described thus at

Sat 9-1. Books- 35,000; 95% donated; 70% hardcover; papercover .25; hardcover $1; $5/box (approx 20 books); buy 2 boxes, get 3rd free. Cash only. Selling all used books from out of business online used book store that were donated to the Raleigh Jaycees. We have no overhead (building space is on loan) so we're just trying to get a fair price for them for charity.
So I drove over this morning to check it out.

I shouldn't have been quite so surprised at what I found.

The optimist in me thought that a store inventory might be a promising collection. Buying out the stock of a retiring seller is a tried and true way to get established in the book biz. An inventory suggests that there had been some degree of discretion in selecting the books. It's just not worth the time to process and the space to store worthless books; any bookseller learns this very quickly, so, it stands to reason, a store inventory might be a better selection than a random personal library or hodgepodge of donations.

But then, the pessimist in me noted that the store in question was out of business -- perhaps it was OOB because the seller had not learned these lessons, and had foolishly assumed that volume could make up for lack of quality? Or maybe these are the dregs, left over after the dealer had already sold off any and every item of value?

And, I recalled, online inventories are more effectively managed by a numbering system than by any kind of logical categories, so the books would not necessarily be organized. At all.

But. 35,000 is a LOT of books. Surely even if there's a lot of dross, there are some treasures hiding in there. Right?

I really wish I hadn't left my camera in Chapel Hill.

If I had had it with me, I could show you the astonishing sight of the Jaycee's sale.

While we were waiting for the door to open (yes, I was there before 9 a.m., lest I miss something good), we eager buyers noticed through the front windows of the office suite that sale workers were just dumping boxes of books in piles on the floor. And from what I could see of the books they were dumping, there wasn't much of interest. Out-dated computer manuals, paperback romances, and the like.

But surely it's not all like that. Maybe these are the books they know to be of little interest, and they're just salvaging the boxes?

We politely filed past the card-table sales station and into the warehouse in the rear of the office suite.

They had a lot of books, alright.

Books piled, I kid you not, 8 feet high and 4 feet deep in one corner. With the SPINES TOWARD THE WALL. In another corner, an even larger pile, except in this case the books had not even been taken out of the boxes. And if you worked your way over to the boxes, you found that the books weren't even placed in the boxes in an orderly manner. They were all jumbled together, as though someone were conducting an experiment in the least efficient possible configuration for packing books.

Most of the books were a little more orderly than the two corners of doom, which allowed for some assessment of the nature of the collection.

You know what's coming, don't you? The pessimist in me had grossly underestimated the situation.
  • Harlequin Romances by the boxful. (Except, of course, that they weren't neatly segregated in their own boxes, but mixed in, polluting the whole lot.)
  • Withdrawn library books of no historic, literary, or other conceivable value.
  • Hardback adult popular fiction from the 1980s and 90s.
If someone were looking for a quick-and-dirty primer on the kind of books not to try to sell online, a tour of this inventory would offer a fine introduction.

I still couldn't quite believe what my eyes were telling me, so I poked around for a bit, hoping to stumble across a diamond in the rough. Also, I was obsessively hoping to impose some degree of order on at least a corner of this mess (a temptation I frequently experience when trolling chaotic used-book sales).

Eventually, I did find a prayer book for my collection, and a couple of items with illustrations that might be useful for a collage project, so I did throw a few dollars at the Jaycees. They're going to need it to pay the waste management company to haul off all the garbage left over from their charitable booksale.

It's a good thing I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, because this morning was not about the thrill of victory.

It was, though, an impressive sight...


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