The 2013 Five Colleges Book Sale, now on its 52nd year was held this past weekend at its usual location in Lebanon, New Hampshire. The event proceeds benefit New Hampshire and Vermont students who receive scholarships to attend the five colleges of Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, Mt. Holyoke and Simmons. The event has always been one of my favorites because of the large number of quality books available for sale, its extraordinary organization and, of course, its good cause.
This year I arrived at the Lebanon High School on the first day of the event which was last Saturday, 45 minutes prior to opening because I am well aware of its popularity. The line at the entrance was already formed by the 200 or so attendees who managed to arrive before me. It was a relatively crisp, cold morning with puddles still on the ground from the previous night’s rainfall, but everyone was in great spirit and had no complaints to share about the long wait standing in the cold with the rest of the attendees. By 9am the line that was now extending around the side of the building doubled in size.
Inside, the 40,000 or so books available for sale were well organized in two large rooms, and the tables in the hallways boasted a variety of genres. There was plenty of room between the tables, allowing buyers to move freely without bumping into each other, and the volunteers did an excellent job keeping the tables well stocked with maximum visibility privileges to the brief examiner. With the exception of the special priced books located in a small section on the side of the gym room, most books were priced between $1 and $5, and were going to be offered at half the marked price on Sunday. Since this is NH, there was no tax and a 10% discount was applied to big purchases with a total above $200. A sealed bid auction of fine bindings, hard-to-find volumes, and rare books was scheduled for two hours in the morning as well.
Added to the event this year was a newly implemented great feature called “Books on Hold.” In order to avoid the inevitable gathering of large piles left in open spaces on the floor, hallways or stashed under tables before receiving a closer examination at a more leisurely pace after the early rush, the organizers had set up an area where shoppers could store their boxes out of the way with the help of volunteers. ID’s were provided, and boxes were labeled with the requirement that unwanted books be returned back to the sale as quickly as possible. Dealers were requested to cull the books that they were holding hourly so that they may be returned back to the appropriate sale tables with the first review of their books to be completed by 1:00 pm.
When the time came to check-out the purchases, the experience of the organizers shined through once again. High volume check-outs with three people assisting were located in the hallway adjacent to the rooms. Buyers with three or fewer boxes were directed to the regular two-person check-outs located at the back and front entrance hallways, while express check-out was made available through solo checkers for 10 books or fewer.
All in all, the book sale exuded vibrant and joyful vibes to all who entered its proximity. Smiling volunteers handed out maps and lighthearted jests to all who entered. Throngs of exciting people perused room after room of heavily laden tables of rare books and volumes, as they filled their boxes and bags to the brim with literary treasures and finds. Crowds ranging in age from infancy to the mature enthusiastically explored all that was offered for sale, powerfully uniting those who attended in a shared love of books that knows no discrimination in age or experience.