Belchertown volunteers at work on mammoth spring book sale to benefit Clapp Library

Thursday, May 08, 2014
BELCHERTOWN — Book sales to support local libraries are a fairly common part of New England life. Events that move 50,000 books in a week are not. For years now, the Friends of Clapp Memorial Library has been able to pull this off twice annually, bringing in as much as $50,000 a year that goes toward everything from purchasing new furniture to supporting a rich array of programming.

Jane Crutchfield started volunteering to help with the fundraisers two decades ago.

“I remember when we were thrilled when we made $1,200,” she said while taking a break from sorting and organizing the mountain of books taking over the library’s basement in anticipation of the spring sale set for April 7 to 12. “Now we make that amount three times over in the first day.”

The key ingredients to making these book sales fly are volume and consistency. “It’s like running a used bookstore twice a year,” said Crutchfield. “People know that we have thousands of books and they know that the prices are right.”

The event’s reputation brings in regular customers from Cape Cod as well as dealers from as far away as Maine, New Hampshire and Long Island.

“It’s not just a community event, it’s a New England event,” said Crutchfield.

Another notable thing about how the sale is structured is that when it is over, all 50,000 books will be gone. Those that are left after shoppers have passed through are donated to nonprofit organizations invited to come and take what they need. Any books left after that are sold in bulk.

Then starts the work to collect books for the fall sale.

“If you see the same title in the basement, it is not the same book, unless someone bought it and read it and brought it back,” said Crutchfield.

Paul Geoffroy, president of the Friends group and, along with Crutchfield, co-chair of the sale this spring, said people are always contacting the library offering books. The Friends group is also active in finding troves of books that they pick up, often by the van load. They solicit on Facebook and Craigslist. They get books from other libraries and from estate liquidations, as well as from individuals.

Sheila McCormick, director of the Clapp Memorial Library, calls the sheer number of books the sale handles every six months “astonishing” especially considering that it is more than double the 22,755 books the library owns.

The sale has been referred to as “the Filene’s Basement of books sales,” Crutchfield said

Most of the books are priced at $2 for hard covers and $1 for paperbacks. Crutchfield pulls selected books out to which she attaches a premium price. They are displayed separately.

When it gets started, “Tuesday is just crazy,” she said. The first evening is reserved for members of the Friends group though anyone is invited to buy a membership at the door. It is $10 for individuals and $20 for a family. Saturday, the last day of the sale “is really crazy because everything is half price.”

The show of enthusiasm for the printed word gratifies McCormick, who notes that, “within the library world even though we are seeing increasing interest in e-books it is not displacing hard-copy books.”

Projects the Friends group has funded over the years with revenue from the sale have gone a long way to making the library a better place. “They pay for virtually every program in the library,” of which there were more than 400 last year, said McCormick. These include readings for children as well as book discussions and cultural events. “Programming is so much a part of what we do and what libraries provide to their communities now, and they don’t come free,” said McCormick.

The Friends have also paid for things like barcode scanners, a new projector, computers, furniture and the maintenance contract for the elevator.

Crutchfield is gratified by the amount of money the book sales bring in.

“It makes you feel really good,” she said.

At the same time she cautions that the added revenue is “just the icing on the cake” of what it takes to run the operation.

“Funding that the library gets from the state and town, that’s what actually enables the library to function as a library,” said Crutchfield. “The money we make is great now, but who knows what it will be 10 years from now.”

The Clapp Memorial Library is a Belchertown institution that generates a certain kind of passion from residents.

“There are people who love this library, they love the stacks, they love the community,” said Crutchfield. “People love to support the library because they love what it stands for, it’s just a great place to be.”

The Friends group actively seeks and accepts donations of books, DVDs and music CDs all year round and is still bringing in items for this spring’s sale. Three of the volunteers go out to get larger donations from within a 40-mile radius, according to Crutchfield, and there is a “whole army of volunteer clerks” who sort books and serve customers during the sale.

“It takes time,” said Crutchfield, “but if you love what you are doing and you want to help the community by way of the library, it’s not a problem.”