Volunteers Drive Five-Colleges Book Sale
Christi Berube, of Enfield, passes the time waiting in line by reading a book while waiting for the Five Colleges Book Sale to begin yesterday morning at Lebanon High School. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Christi Berube, of Enfield, passes the time in line by reading a book while waiting for the Five-Colleges Book Sale to begin yesterday morning at Lebanon High School. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Joshua Hutchins, a mover with Hanover Transfer, jokes with volunteer Sylvia Garfield while asking her where a box of books is supposed to go at the Lebanon High School gym on Friday. Volunteers worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to set up thousands of books. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Mark Waks, of Somerville, Mass., looks at a donation receipt with volunteer Marilyn Breselor after he donated more than 36 boxes of books that belonged to his late wife, who had been a librarian. He said it was something his wife would’ve been happy to do. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Connor Koehler, of Norwich, adds another stack of books to a pile he accumulated in less than 20 minutes at the sale yesterday. Koehler, along with other book dealers and collectors, used a holding room to sort through large amounts of books they snatched up to determine which to buy. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Book dealers and collectors rush through the door at Lebanon High School in pursuit of valuable books at the beginning of the Five-Colleges Book Sale yesterday morning. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lois Wood moves a large pile of books from one table to another while alphabetizing hardcover fiction books on Friday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Jean Allen sorts through books to analyze and price them while volunteering for the book sale on Friday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Volunteer Marcia Frederick sets up signs for book categories before books are moved into the Lebanon High School gym on Friday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — A few slices of poundcake on a break room table, small stacks of books awaiting price tags, some half-filled cardboard boxes. By Tuesday, the warehouse serving as home base for the Five-Colleges Book Sale contained only remnants of a weeks-long push to prepare tens of thousands of items for the annual sale.
Volunteers had worked long hours to clean, sort and price the donated books, DVDs and audio books that are on sale this weekend at Lebanon High School. They’d sealed and stacked heavy cardboard boxes for transport to the school. And by last week, they were weary.
“We are all tired and no one’s cleaned their house,” quipped Jane McCarthy, of Hanover, who was sorting materials in “the orphanage.”
The room is filled with books — generally duplicates or volumes that look “a little tired” — offered free to nonprofits and social service agencies. McCarthy, who has been with the sale for at least 10 years, has lots of reasons for volunteering, including her love of books and commitment to recycling. She also enjoys her colleagues.
“It’s a great group,” she said. “I feel like I’m with fellow spirits.”
The sale funds scholarships for Vermont and New Hampshire students to five colleges: Mount Holyoke, Simmons, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley. It was founded in 1962 by graduates of the schools, which were founded as women’s colleges. But anyone, alum or not, is welcome to help out, and help is always needed. That’s a point organizers want to stress.
“We are always encouraging folks to bring a friend,” said Cindy Kordys Dripchak, one of the sale’s co-leaders. “Some of our wonderful volunteers who have been with us over the years have either passed away or are no longer able to participate because of limitations.”
Just a few years ago, the sale’s future was uncertain. In 2011, its leaders were stepping down, its army of dedicated volunteers aging. Despite worries about who would fill the gap, the volunteers voted to continue on for at least another year. Then, new leaders stepped up, new volunteers pitched in.
“The Upper Valley community was concerned that they wouldn’t have a resource to get rid of and buy books,” explained Karen Wolk, former co-chairwoman.
But even with new energy, the sale still faces challenges.
Last year’s receipts were lower than previous years’. In both 2010 and 2011, the sale netted about $55,000, or an $11,000 scholarship for each college, Dripchak said. In 2012, they earned about $42,500, enough to give each school $8,500.
The reason for the dip is unclear.
There may be less call for books, or they may have been priced too low, said Wolk, who was pricing books in the Etna Road warehouse last week. Also, attendance by secondhand book dealers dropped in 2012.
The sale is affected by the quality of the donations, which varies from year to year, said Dripchak, who has volunteered with sale for more than a decade. She also suspects that ereaders and the ease of buying books online are having an effect, however slight.
“I think we still have a fairly good number of folks buying the books,” said Dripchak, a Smith alum who is also the sale’s historian. “They appreciate just (having) a book in their hands.”
The sale gets help from local businesses. Hypertherm provided the heated warehouse, and WinCycle recycles plastics, such as CD and DVD cases, Dripschak said. “We have been very, very grateful.”
But growing expenses are eating into the bottom line. Last year, for the first time, they were required to hire police officers to staff the sale, Dripchak said, and the costs of moving books and renting space at the high school have both increased.
To keep the scholarship money flowing, they are looking at ways to increase the net proceeds, she said, such as using “all of the social media options.”
This year, for the first time, the Five-Colleges Book Sale has its own Facebook page. Organizers are also looking more closely at what people buy.
“After last year’s sale, we pinpointed what we call ‘power categories’ that sold really well,” she said. A review of trends from 2009 on showed that cookbooks, bestsellers and “like new” books are among the top movers, along with a new category of hard-to-characterize books called “unclassified: we have it, and you want it.”
Preparing for the sale is a year-round task, and about 300 people pitch in, said Dripchak, a financial adviser. Some have been with the sale for decades, including a woman who, in 35 years, had missed just one sale. For her wedding.
“That’s some serious dedication,” Dripchak said, laughing.
Newer volunteers include recent college graduates and those who have long loved the event but were too busy to help during their working years.
Cindy Heath, Lebanon’s former recreation director, had volunteered a bit with the sale while she was working. But after retiring from the city, she dove right in.
“I love books and the concept of a scholarship,” said Heath, a recreation consultant who has been co-chairwoman with Dripchak since 2012.
For others, volunteering is an affordable opportunity to contribute.
Susan Boyle, a retired Hanover resident and Vassar alum, has volunteered with the book sale for almost a decade.
“I think like a lot of women here, I can’t afford to give great amounts of money to my college, so I try to do as much as I can,” she said.
Boyle is a mother of four and formerly worked at Richmond Middle School. She applies her expertise to pricing children’s items, which this year filled 208 boxes. On Tuesday afternoon, the table once piled high was nearly empty. Boyle placed the stragglers in a box.
How did it feel to pack away the last book?
“Wonderful,” she said.
Like Boyle, Temis de la Pena has found his niche.
Because he’s interested in military history, his mother, Lois de la Pena, a former leader of the sale, enlisted him to help price books in that category. That was 10 years ago, and he’s stuck with it.
“I was the second-youngest volunteer then,” said de la Pena, 58.
Having boxed up the last of the military history books, he slid his folding chair across the room to help price travel materials. The books were done, but the maps and brochures were proving something of a quandary.
Cathy Mabie, of Lebanon, held up a 1948 map of the Lake District in England. Mabie, who had shopped at the sale for years, started volunteering this year.
“People have been great, very, very welcoming,” said Mabie, who recently retired from social work. “It’s just been great fun to be in the midst of so many well-read people.”
They looked over the map, trying to come up with a price.
“Somebody would be interested in that,” Mabie said.
De la Pena agreed.
Just about everything they came across would appeal to someone, he said. “It’s a pity we only have two days to sell.”
The sale continues today, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., at Lebanon High School. All items are half-price.
Donations of books and other items are accepted year round. For more information, go to www.five-collegesbooksale.org.