Book Sale

63rd Annual Used Book Sale Report

booksale from articleThe AAUW-Ann Arbor Branch did it again!  We can be very proud of how our members, student volunteers and supporters were able to make the sixty-third annual book sale a success. This year was a time for innovation as we worked together to coordinate sorting-site challenges, book storage issues, and the September book sale.  Thanks to the many dedicated women involved, we smoothly integrated our traditional sorting system into the Veteran’s Memorial Park Ice Arena.  Once again, member participation and auxiliary volunteer groups efficiently folded into the single purpose of furthering our goal to raise funds for scholarships.  Careful monitoring of the book storage and move; through the trucking company, Move America; segued into a profitable book sale at Washtenaw Community College.  Along the way, we could be thankful for the help of National Honor Society students, the Gabrielle Richard Pioneer Track Team and the Concordia Basketball team.  What an accomplishment!

Our Branch has further reason to be proud. Our local community supported AAUW-Ann Arbor efforts this summer by donating thousands of books to us. It was their trust in the value of our fund raising project that allowed us to offer a roughly estimated 40,000 books for sale.  The proceeds from the sale rose above $36,000 because of that trust.  We do not disappoint the donors or ourselves when we announce we are able to generously fund our traditional scholarships for another year.  

Next year the 64th annual sale will be held on September 9-11, 2016.  We’ll start to collect books in late June — watch this space for details.

Thank You!
Pam Ehrhart and Mary Mostaghim
Co-Chairs, AAUW Book Sale Committee

Where does the money go?

Members of the Ann Arbor branch work hard virtually all year round to make our annual Used Book Sale a success, and through their efforts we raise thousands of dollars for scholarships for women.  Read Polly Pan’s AAUW Funds Report for 2015 to find out exactly how we disburse all that money.

AAUW-Ann Arbor Branch Book Sorting Process
(or “What happened to my donated books?”)

It is always helpful to understand the goal for any effort; in the case of the annual AAUW-Ann Arbor Branch Used Book Sale, our primary goal is to raise money for scholarships.  This fundraising mechanism has been extraordinarily successful since its inception in 1953, having raised a net of $650,000 through 2014 to support scholarship awards at the organization’s national level and also at the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and Washtenaw Community College.   

The number of books we can save for the sale is limited by several factors:  the spatial capacity of the sales floor at Washtenaw Community College; the three-day length of the sale; and the fact that we do not have a place to store leftover books from year to year.   Our members handle tens upon tens of thousands of donated books each summer, on a volunteer basis.  They have gained considerable experience from over sixty-two years of working on this wonderful, community-based project and have a good idea of what the public will buy.  The entire process has frequently been referred to as a giant recycling event; nothing is discarded into the trash (save perhaps used containers after our lunchtime breaks on sorting days). 

The process at the sorting site is similar to that of a field hospital, except we treat books instead of people.  All book donations go through three general filtering processes at the book-sorting site before they are boxed for our sale at Washtenaw Community College in September.  We send books through “rough sort,” “triage,” and “distribution.”  Each step of the way, we keep in mind our economic goal.  This practice strengthens our book sale’s reputation as an important book-buying destination for the public and for local and national book dealers–and by extension, allows us faithfully to fund scholarships.  

It is counterproductive to accept materials that are not likely to sell.  As a result; we discourage the donation of encyclopedias, textbooks, retired library books, maps, magazines, VHS tapes, audio tapes, maps, and pamphlets.  A list of these materials is published on our flyers, in our Ann Arbor Observer ads, and on the AAUW-Ann Arbor website.   We have also found that books that smell badly or are damaged,  that cannot be cleaned of dirt and stains, or are badly marked or highlighted, do not sell.  These types of books and materials are separated out of the process during the rough sort phase.   Audio and video tapes, puzzles, and sundry items that are donated along with the books are set aside for our yearly garage sale, raising money to benefit other AAUW Ann Arbor Branch projects.   Sometimes we are asked to save unsaleable books for special purposes such as theatre productions or art projects.   We help if we can.   Books that do not make it through rough sort are recycled, not thrown into the trash.   Libraries do the same, so we are in good company. 

The next filtering phase is triage.   All books that make it through the rough sort process are given individual attention in triage.  Each book is checked thoroughly for anything of concern that might have been missed in rough sort, such as torn pages and usability.  For example, it is not useful to keep old computer programming books or out-of-date medical books when the technology of a discipline no longer uses that information.   In triage, each book is cleaned to remove stickiness, dust, dirt, and many of the original price stickers.  From triage, the books go to our distribution areas.    

Picture the 2015 sorting site, the Veterans Memorial Park Ice Arena, with stacks of boxes, four high, lining much of the inside perimeter of the ice rink , as well as large areas of floor space set aside for the same purpose.   These stacks of boxes are organized according any of the fifty-nine various categories used ultimately to sort donated books.   Before books are boxed for the sale, their final stop is the distribution tables where there is a last check.  Volunteers who oversee the distribution look for too many copies of the same title, ensure a book is boxed into its correct category, and decide if a book might be worth selling on the Internet. 

Usable books that do not make it from distribution to the various categorized boxes for the sale are not wasted.  Each year, before book sorting even begins, knowledgeable members decide upon the optimum number of boxes per category that will sell during the three-day sale in September.   As we get further into the sorting weeks, we begin to fill up the allotted number of boxes for each category.  From that point, distribution puts those extra books into our overflow area where they are offered to other AAUW book sales, to libraries, to the Veterans Hospital, and to other charitable organizations.  They are not thrown away.  In this special case, the books that are donated at the beginning of our sorting period will go to our sale; the same book titles, donated later, will benefit other community organizations.  Only some of our book categories reach this overflow stage.  

Finally, there are always some books left at the end of the sale.   They are not wasted either.   Washtenaw Community College works with our group to keep our cost of renting the Morris Lawrence building at a low level.   One of the ways we do this is to let the school offer our remaining unsold books to students and staff free of charge, after Sunday’s closing.  Instead of our having to pay for recycling bins, we set the leftovers out on tables in the atrium.  The people at WCC, as well as members of the public who happen to be walking through, look forward to browsing through books that would have otherwise been recycled, so even the last of the books continue to benefit the community.   The few books that remain become property of WCC, to dispose of as they wish.   The AAUW Used Book Sale really is a whole community project and has frequently been referred to as a wonderful and total recycling project from beginning to end.

Pam Ehrhart and Polly Pan
August 2015 

Read the History

In the 61 years since the book sale began it has become an Ann Arbor institution. Now you can read the story of its evolution in a new history written by Polly Pan.name2 reduced



Information about book sales for other Michigan branches is available at the AAUW of Michigan website.