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 Ann Arbor Branch 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, runs for a very short time and is 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, the Oak Valley Centre in Pittsfield Township and most recently Veterans Memorial Park Arena ice rink, courtesy of Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation. 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 historic memories as told by a book-loving branch member, Katharine Uhle, who wrote:
“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 had an MS in Library Science after all). We have worked very hard since those early days to make book-sorting a more 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 was able to open the next day and the sale continued.
The sorting site in Chelsea is well remembered by those who worked that summer for the ability to drop off books by driving whole vehicles 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. It 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 2014 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 an almost ideal Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation facility at the Veterans Memorial Park 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 paperback book discards and cardboard. Needless to say, we have worked very hard to successfully continue our relationship with the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Department and the use of the Vets Park ice arena facility each summer to sort books. 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, boxes and trays of books are loaded into two semi-truck trailers by students from the Father Gabriel Richard Cross Country team under the able supervision of our AAUW members to be safely stored until set-up day when the trailers are delivered to WCC for unloading. For many years, Concordia University basketball team members have unloaded and distributed the boxes and trays to the many WCC tables where they and branch members display the books (spines up!) in readiness for the sale—held over three days each year on the weekend after Labor Day.
2020 was to have been our sixth consecutive year to sort books at the Vets Park ice arena and our book sorting/sale planning committee had begun meeting in anticipation of a successful 68th Annual Used Book Sale to be held in September. Alas, in March, 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic ended all hope of safely holding a sale and all activity was reluctantly canceled. With the development of effective vaccines against COVID in the early part of 2021, we were cautiously optimistic to be able to hold our 68th Book Sale in September. Sadly, COVID-19 cases and serious illness continued rampant in our midst during 2021 and we again reluctantly canceled the sale.
In spite of no book sales for two years, our AAUW Ann Arbor Branch commitment to student education support through scholarship awards remained. Our branch members brainstormed alternative fundraising activities through the sale of member tributes in our directory, contributions to honor member birthdays, collection of and resale to members of recent books and direct donation to the cause, all of which resulted in successfully continued academic scholarship support in spite of the ongoing pandemic.
2022 brought great optimism that we would once again be able to offer quality used books for sale and indeed, we succeeded. But not without a glitch! Plans were in place to resume sorting at the Vets Park ice arena until very shortly before we would begin setting up to receive books. A sudden sewer breakage at the site made use of that facility impossible. Our intrepid leaders scrambled and a new site was found (affectionately called “the warehouse”) that met all our needs–and even had a lovely outdoor patio which was happily used for lunch breaks during sorting days. Book donors found us in spite of the change—and one donor inadvertently contributed extra dollars to the cause, as a crisp $100 bill was found by one of our members inside one of the donated books!
A final postscript about the use of the warehouse site to sort books: the summer of 2022 was a dry one with comparatively little or no heavy rain. After all was finished and we had moved out all the book collection for this year’s sale and cleaned up the site, our book sale lead chair paid a final visit to the owner to return all the keys. On the very weekend following our complete moveout, there had been such a heavy rain event that the roof had leaked!! Puddles galore inside the warehouse in multiple places where days before had been stacked cardboard boxes full of books. AAUW-Ann Arbor’s book sale fundraiser is truly blessed in its timing, for sure!
Each year we try to tweak the process to make it better and to make things run more smoothly. Some examples:
- The purchase of multiple long white tables to use for sorting, instead of an eclectic collection of tables brought from member homes, vastly improved the entire sorting process. The expansive Vets Park ice rink space has allowed us to further increase the number of sorting tables which, in turn, has allowed category specialists such as history, biography, art and architecture among others to sort books more easily. Additional rolling carts have been purchased.
- The Ypsilanti sorting site was the first time we recycled discarded paperback 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.
- Other AAUW branches, including the Jackson Branch, the Wyandotte/Downriver Branch as well as nearby libraries, have been supplied with books from our overflow: good books that we couldn’t use because our categories were full. In recent years, volunteers from Tecumseh and Clinton libraries have welcomed all our good overflow books as a wonderful source for their sales as well. In addition, we have established a working relationship with a local entrepreneur who welcomes our less usable discards for his further end-use, which has improved our recycling efforts for books we cannot use ourselves. Cooperative relationships are to be treasured and we very much hope to be able to continue doing this for many years to come!
- We worked with the community. The year Pfizer closed their Ann Arbor research facility (now repurposed as the UM North Campus Research Complex), 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.
- 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.
- 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 now incorporated into our routine sorting process.
- 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.
- Categories come and categories go. Chicken Soup and Dummy/Idiot books once sold well; now not so much, and these among other outdated categories have been eliminated. On the other hand, history books and cookbooks are now subdivided into six and four sub-categories respectively to make them more easily found by customers at the sale. Audio tapes have been replaced by CD/DVD offerings, which continue to sell well in spite of modern streaming services.
- 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.
- We monitor 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 hardcover books fit in a box and measure approximately 36 inches wide! Trade paperbacks increase the number of books per box by about 1/3, but a yard of books still fill a box.
- We initiated an exit poll as buyers leave the sale which has provided valuable information used for advertising. We were thus able to eliminate some less useful paid advertising sources.
- Truly valuable book donations are now offered online at afternoon’s end on Book Sale day one to allow more prolonged sale opportunities. This has resulted in additional post-WCC sales of well over $1000 annually.
And what does all this represent? We have gone from a net of $435 in yearly scholarship money from used book sale proceeds to a high of over $30,000 and recorded awards between 2003 and 2021 have totaled an impressive $452,150! The University of Michigan Mary Markley Scholarship is now fully endowed and we annually continue to support AAUW scholarship endowment funds at Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College. In 2019 the long-standing University of Michigan CEW+ scholarship fund became the CEW+ AAUW-Ann Arbor Branch Used Book Sale Scholarship endowment to honor the AAUW-Ann Arbor’s book sale legacy and commitment to scholarship. It was funded by an anonymous alumna of UM who had received a Mary Markley scholarship in 1983. Current and future book sale proceeds will allow for growth of this newest endowment to benefit deserving University of Michigan students. For a number of years, additional scholarships were awarded to local graduating high school scholars attending WCC.
Each year we allocate as much as half of the Book Sale proceeds to national AAUW, supporting AAUW’s mission advancing gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy. In 2018, a very generous bequest from the estate of former member Arlene Huff allowed for the completion of the $200,000 AAUW International Endowment Fund #4349 six years early! To date we have endowed five national AAUW fellowship grants, the proceeds of which serve to support substantial graduate fellowships to both American and International students in perpetuity.
This is the history of our AAUW Ann Arbor Branch Used 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 and many long-lasting friendships develop—especially at book sorting. And there is a tremendous reward when it is all done—the generation of scholarships for deserving students. It is fun, it is memories, it is US.