Book Sale History

History of the Ann Arbor Branch Used Book Sale


< A photo from the 1969 (17th annual) book sale showing Sue Martin, Nancy Bielby Sudia and Marcia Korwin, plus children Peter Bielby and Karen Wolfe.




The original AAUW Used Book Sale in 1953, with an informal setting at the Michigan League, has evolved into what has been termed “a small business that recycles 100% of its materials, run for a very short time, staffed with 100% volunteers.” Since that inauspicious 1953 beginning, the sale has been held in various venues:  the International Center, Student Activities Building, First Congregational Church Ann Arbor, Michigan Union, Arborland, Concordia College and finally, since 1998, at Washtenaw Community College.

Summer sorting sites have also evolved. In early years, members sorted and stored the books in their basements, garages and offices. Books are heavy; one year a basement floor cracked under the weight of the books stored there! For many years books were sorted in a small room at Eberwhite Elementary School until the volume of books necessitated a larger space. Other sorting sites have included empty storefronts at Arborland, U of M owned Perry School, and then other spaces donated by First Martin, U of M, the city of Ypsilanti, DTE Energy, McKinley, Bill Conlin, Centro Properties and most recently the Oak Valley Centre in Pittsfield Township. We have sorted books at an unused MCare property on Commonwealth Drive in Ann Arbor, the old unemployment office in Ypsilanti, an old factory building in Chelsea, air conditioned office space in the DTE building, the old Oldsmobile showroom on Washtenaw Avenue (with no running water, but serviceable Porta-Potties), a double garage on Carpenter Road, the old Hancock Fabrics store, the former Secretary of State office and the former Blockbuster Video Store. We were singularly blessed for a number of years with a relationship between Jennie Lombard and a realtor for Centro Properties who promised a site to us each year until his retirement.

Here are a few memories as told by one of our current members, Katharine Uhle, who writes:

“I arrived in Ann Arbor in June, 1988 with a transferred membership from Coldwater and Betty Jozwick, Membership Chair was at my door the same day! When I asked if there was ongoing book sale work going on in the summer, she gave me specific directions to Eberwhite School where sorting was taking place on Mondays and Thursdays. I arrived to see a huge poster staring down at me:

“DON’T PUT A BOOK IN THE WRONG PLACE! The Watchbird is watching you!””

Katharine did manage to survive this threat (she has an MS in Library Science after all).  We have worked very hard since those early days to make book-sorting a very user friendly experience! There are no wrong answers and even if there were, it doesn’t really matter in the long run. The customer will find that book if that’s what they are really looking for!

At the Arborland sale, tables were rented and set up by members in the enclosed mall (this was before a major remodel of Arborland). There were some makeshift signs on the subjects but a whole table was labeled UNSORTED. Sale organization improved later.

Some sales are remembered for certain events associated with them:

There was “The Year of the Theft” in 1969. The sale site was the First Congregational Church and it was there, on the first evening of the sale, that the cash box with the day’s proceeds was stolen. President Virginia Hill wrote of the book sale and the theft in the October 1971 Bulletin, “I only hope the person who stole our cash box is using the money for tuition!” Even without that first day’s receipts, the sale raised $2000.

1991 was “The Year of the Flood”. A water main broke under the floor at Arborland Mall and the sight of AAUW members—and customers—desperately racing to get boxes of books off the floor and onto tables ahead of the oncoming waters is one which those who witnessed it will never forget. Many members gathered Saturday evening to deal with several inches of water on the floor and move the books one more time. Fortunately the mall did open the next day and the sale was able to continue.

The sorting site in Chelsea is well remembered, by those who worked that summer, for the ability to drop off books by driving the whole vehicle directly into the building to the space allocated to us. Talk about convenience! The fear that sorting in Chelsea and not in Ann Arbor would impact donations never materialized since we also picked up book donations from a new source in Chelsea and environs—and people brought their books to Chelsea anyway. We also had an arrangement with a member office building for local Ann Arbor drop-off—which somewhat backfired in August with enormous response into a limited space—which needed to be acted upon pronto! The call went out and we cleared it out with the employment of a great deal of sweat equity! (It was 90 degrees that day.)

The 62nd Annual Ann Arbor Used Book Sale in 2015 included a summer sorting season held at the Oak Valley Centre Shopping Center, surrounded by massive detours and road construction on Ann Arbor-Saline Road. Sorting in Pittsfield Township continued to challenge member ingenuity with the need for daily placement and then removal of directional signs to our site (Township rules do not permit permanent—or temporary—signage display) as well as the massive use of personal cars to transport non-sellable books to the Ann Arbor Recycle Center (since Ann Arbor Recycle was unable to service Pittsfield Township).

Transport of books from sorting to sale site ran smoothly—until it didn’t. The ongoing road construction complicated access to the sorting site. Of the two hired transport trucks, one was delayed due to engine trouble, but loading began smoothly with loading truck one with as many book boxes as possible with the second truck to follow. Truck One arrived on time at WCC, but Truck Two never made it out of the sorting site parking lot until three hours later after needing on-site mechanical repair!

Book sorting in 2015 brought initial despair and ultimate elation when we finally found a very receptive Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation facility at the Veterans Park Ice Arena. Who knew their ice rink would shut down over the exact summer period when we sort books! Not only that, we were able to re-establish our happy relationship with Recycle Ann Arbor for pickup of our book discards and cardboard. Needless to say, we have worked very hard and successfully to continue our relationship with Vets Park to use their facility during summer 2016 and again in 2017. The generous space on the floor of the ice rink has allowed our sorters to continue to refine our sorting process to provide the best of the best in used books for our sale. At the end of the sorting period our book collection is now safely stored in two semi-truck trailers until sale days when the trailers are delivered to WCC for unloading.

Each year we try to tweak the process to make it better and to make things run more smoothly. Some examples:

1. One was the purchase of multiple long white tables to use for sorting, instead of an eclectic collection of tables brought from member homes. In recent years a generous member has also made her similar tables available for sorting. Additional rolling carts have been purchased.

2. The Ypsilanti sorting site was the first time we recycled discarded books and cardboard with a weekly pickup. Since then we have established a wonderful working relationship with Recycle Ann Arbor with enthusiastic support from their management.

3. Other AAUW branches, beginning with the Jackson Branch and extending to Wyandotte/Downriver, as well as nearby libraries, have afforded the opportunity to supply them with books from our overflow: good books that we couldn’t use because our categories were full. Cooperative relationships are to be treasured and we very much hope to be able to continue doing this for many years to come!

4. We worked with the community.  The year Pfizer closed, we engineered, with their help, a “Pfizer Days” Used Book Collection at their site in April. We collected about 75 boxes of good books to add to our collection.

5. As our efforts increased it became obvious that storage of supplies for the sale far exceeded efforts by members to store them in basements, so a storage facility was incorporated into the operation.

6. Book sorting at the old Hancock Building brought the installation of Internet accessibility so that book values could be researched onsite. That proved to be an enormous help and is certainly now incorporated into our routine sorting process. Subsequently we have purchased portable scanners to additionally facilitate the evaluation process for special books.

7. We have become more rigorous about the number of books we take to the sale; bigger is not always better. By putting category limits on what we take to sell we force ourselves to only keep the best.

7. In early years all books were moved from the sorting site to the sale in member cars. In 1985 a small U-Haul truck was rented for the first time. Later, book boxes were moved in a full-sized semi-truck with trays moved in a member van/car caravan to keep them from tipping over. Book sorting at Veterans Park Ice Arena has allowed storage of both book boxes and trays in two semi-trucks at a secure facility until their delivery to WCC for the sale days.

8. We monitored how things are going at the sale by taking inventory both at the end of Saturday and the end of Sunday. This way we are able to see what sells well and when, which allows the tweaking of the number of books in a category that we take to the next sale. Did you know that 36 inches is a box of books? That’s how we do the inventory. Approximately 30 stacked books fits in a box and measures approximately 36 inches wide!

9. We initiated an exit poll as buyers leave the sale which has provided valuable information used for advertising. We were thusly able to eliminate some paid advertising sources as being not useful.

10. Truly valuable book donations are now offered online after the afternoon of Book Sale Day One to allow more prolonged sale opportunities. This has resulted in additional post-WCC sales of over $1000 annually.

And what does all this represent? We’ve gone from a net of $435 in scholarship money from used book sale proceeds to a high of almost $30,000! The University of Michigan Mary Markley Scholarship is now fully endowed and we annually award scholarships to the Center for Education of Women at UM, Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College. For a number of years, additional scholarships were awarded to local graduating high school scholars attending WCC.

Each year we allocate approximately half of the Book Sale proceeds to the national AAUW Educational Opportunities Fund. To date we have endowed four fellowship grants and are currently working to complete the Ann Arbor Branch International Fellowship II.

This is some of the history of our Ann Arbor Book Sale in a nutshell. It’s been said that throughout it all, the glue that holds the whole process together is the members. The book sale activity is one that offers fellowship along with hard work. But there is a tremendous reward when it’s all done with the generation of money for scholarships for deserving young women. It is fun, it is memories, it is US.