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Book sale nears record

It may seem decidedly unlibrarylike, but the Duluth Public Library's biggest fund-raiser is its annual book sale, bringing thousands of books and uncounted book lovers together.

It may seem decidedly unlibrarylike, but the Duluth Public Library's biggest fund-raiser is its annual book sale, bringing thousands of books and uncounted book lovers together.
And as the Budgeteer went to press, this year's sale, which closed on Friday, was on pace to be the most successful yet.
"Financially, we're up above last year, and last year was our best ever, so we're steadily improving," said Heidi Johnson, the library's book sale chair, during a brief respite from the sale.
Early numbers were bearing out the optimistic assessment. Last year's sale earned $16,000, and by the afternoon of the first of three days, the library had already netted $9,400.
Proceeds go to fill in the library's budget cracks, meeting worthy requests from wish lists each library department submits.
The sale is run by volunteers from Friends of the Duluth Public Library. For instance, last year, Johnson put in more than 500 volunteer hours working on it, in what she calls a labor of love.
This year, Johnson has touched every single book on sale, she said. And there are a lot of them, numbering in the thousands and believed to be a record number this year. That's what has library supporters so optimistic.
The books, intermingled with periodicals, CDs, albums, videos and cassettes, came mostly from donations and withdrawals from the library. In hardback fiction alone, Johnson said there were 135 boxes, each containing about 30 books.
One reason for the wild popularity is the variety of books available. Most popular are the paperback fiction books, but astute consumers can track down deals on history books, text books and magazine back issues, too.
During Wednesday's sale, customers of all ages mingled in the library's Green, Gold and Platinum rooms searching shelves sometimes layered two books deep in books. On one shelf, Danielle Steele and James Clavell sit side-by-side. Tucked on a back shelf out of the action sat a copy of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's "Earth in the Balance."
There was even one Harry Potter, the first book in the series, which sold immediately. Don't expect a flood of them anytime soon.
"I don't think we'll be getting them for a couple of years," said Johnson.
But the most important reason for the event's popularity is the bargains -- more than half the books are sold at rock bottom rates of 50 cents for hardcover and 25 cents for paperbacks.
While these prices may seem ridiculously low, Johnson said these sales contribute.
"It's amazing how many 50-cent books add up to a lot of money," she said.
To put it in perspective, this class of book accounted for $7,000 during last year's sale.
Other books are also sold for bargain prices, but their prices are set individually. Although some collector's editions are priced in the hundreds of dollars, many popular, well-kept books sell for prices like $3 and $5.
Friday's hours, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. offered even greater savings, with flat-rate books going at $2 for a standard-issue grocery bag full, and the individually marked books at half the price marked.
Although the sale is over, staff are still working.
"This is sort of like the Rose Bowl Parade," noted Johnson. "We start the day it's over."
Friends of the Library is looking for volunteers to serve in various capacities. For more information, visit your local branch, call the library's community services department at 723-3836 or visit the library Web site at http://www.duluth.lib.mn.us .
Oh, for those wondering, this reporter walked away from his assignment with three books, paying a whopping total of $1.25.

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