If you’d would like to curl up with a novel, plan a vacation, try some new recipes, or learn something new in just about any subject, the used book sale going on now through the weekend at the George Mason Regional Library has what you need, and much, much more.
There are enough books (plus CDs and audiobooks) to fill 1,570 boxes, says Mary Zimmerman, president of Friends of the Friends of the George Mason Regional Library, which organizes two semi-annual used book sales. There is everything from cookbooks to mysteries, audiobooks to travel guides.
The book sale is open today 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday 9:30-5 p.m.
George Mason Friends depends on attracting lots of people to the book sale so it can generate enough revenue to fund programs for the library that the county’s budget can no longer support, but getting the word out about the book sale has been increasingly challenging.
Ninety-percent of the proceeds from the book sales go back to the library, Zimmerman says. The George Mason Friends group spends $42,500 a year for the summer children’s reading program; purchased furniture for the staff’s break room; provided special floor padding behind the desks for the librarians who have to stand up all day; and plans to buy new chairs for the children’s and adults’ reading areas.
The Friends also bought a shed and supplies for a gardening group that landscapes library grounds, supports the after-school program at the Woodrow Wilson Library in Bailey’s Crossroads, supports George Mason University’s annual Fall for the Book festival, and last year spent $20,000 for countywide training for library employees.
All of the books on sale are donated. Library patrons have been dropping off books in a bin in the library lobby all year long, and volunteers have been sorting the books as they come in, pricing them, and packing them away until it’s time for the sale.
Sometimes, they find a rare gem. Two years ago, someone donated a gorgeous book of Korean prints, which was sold for $1,200, Zimmerman says. A rare first-edition of The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy sold for $200
Zimmerman, a history teacher at Northern Virginia Community College, keeps an eye out for exceptional history books. About three years ago, the library received a first edition of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia. Had it been in decent condition, it would have been worth $20,000 to $25,000. “But it was in terrible condition, literally in tatters,” she recalls, so it only fetched $500. Another rare find was a 12-volume history of the United States with an overlooked signature of the author, Theodore Roosevelt, in the first volume. That book sold for $200.
“When we started, we didn’t know what we were doing,” Zimmerman says. When a first-edition of Richard Nixon’s book, Six Crises, was donated, “we didn’t know what to charge, so we asked for $6—$1 per crisis,” she says. A local autograph collector bought it and got Nixon to sign it. “He said he liked our pricing, so he sold it for $600—$100 per crisis.”
Among this year’s high-priced books are Incidents of Travel in Central America, published in 1842, for $100; a three-volume set on the artist Frans Hals ($70); Coinage and Money in the Byzantine Empire ($75); and Buster Bear’s Twins from 1923 signed by the author, Thornton Burgess ($50).
The vast majority of books are way cheaper and are in good condition. In general, paperbacks are about $1, hardcovers are $3 to $5 (art books are likely to be a bit more), and DVDs are $2 to $4. Everything will be half price on Sunday.
Books that can’t be sold are donated to schools or charitable organizations in D.C. and Virginia, Zimmerman says. “We get more dictionaries than we can sell,” so they, along with textbooks, are given to Washington, D.C., schools. Copies of popular books—such as novels by Stephen King and David Baldacci, for example—are given to Fairfax County’s central library department to replace beat-up books in local libraries.
The George Mason Friends started in 1974, after a friend on the county’s library board asked Zimmerman to help raise $40 for honoraria to bring four ballerinas from the Washington Ballet to give a talk at the library. So Zimmerman helped start a used book sale, and has been doing it ever since. “It took on a life of its own,” she says.