With more than 500,000 books, records, games, CDs, DVDs, paintings, posters, puzzles, magazines and more, there’s something for everyone at the semi-annual Friends of the Library book sale. But when the nonprofit’s current president, Jonathan van Blokland, looks back on his years working the event, he’s most enraptured by the people.
Van Blokland, 81, has been involved with Friends of the Library since 2008, collecting memories from more than 20 book sales and thousands of interactions.
He said he likes to work his way through the crowds and get to know the visitors — old and young, individuals and families, first-timers and seasoned veterans. He recalled meeting people who traveled from out of state and camped out in front of the building in anticipation. He recognized a family of four or five kids that seemed to grow in size each visit.
His favorite interaction was with an older local couple who attended every day of the sale for 20 years without ever missing a single one.
“In the years I’ve been there, I really cannot find anybody to dislike,” van Blokland said. “Find a nice fellow who likes books, and you’ll be happy the rest of your life.”
Friends of the Library, located at 430-B N Main St., hosted its first in-person book sale since Fall 2019 Saturday, kicking off the five-day comeback event that will last until Wednesday. Hours for all upcoming days are noon to 6 p.m. For the first time in the sale’s history, customers are able to pay with credit card, in addition to cash and check.
Items will continue to be sold at their original prices, ranging from 25 cents to $4, on Monday. Tuesday, items will be sold at half-price, and on Wednesday, items will be priced at only 10 cents. The Collector’s Corner, which features signed and first-edition copies of books, is open the first four days of the sale and houses the only items listed outside the original price range.
The sale is run entirely by a force of close to 100 volunteers, some who traveled from out of state to help. Hundreds of books and other items — all donated by the community — are stored in cardboard boxes, ready to replenish the sale stock whenever needed. Profits are donated to the Alachua County Library District.
As the largest of its kind in Florida and one of the largest in the southeastern United States, the book sale is especially significant in its contribution to the Alachua County Library District. Friends of the Library has been supporting ACLD since after its first sale in 1954.
Rachel Cook, Alachua County Library District spokesperson, said Friends of the Library has provided the district with $5.4 million of support since 1986, including $25,119 during the 2020-2021 fiscal year and $351,000 in staff scholarships.
Cook said the profits are used to fund literacy programs, author visits, marketing campaigns and physical materials, among other projects. In the past, profits have been used to add eight quiet reading rooms to eight branches of the library district.
All customers and volunteers at the sale are required to wear masks inside the building, and the number of visitors allowed inside at once is limited to allow for social distancing.
With two years passing since the last in-person sale, van Blokland said he and other Friends of the Library members were initially unsure what the turnout would be — especially on the first day, which he said usually accounts for 70% of the sale’s profits.
“It’s a bit like when you have a baby,” he said. “We just don’t know what sort of baby we’re going to be producing.”
Evidently, the baby was a hit.
Hundreds of customers lined up outside Friends of the Library early Saturday morning, with many visitors arriving long before the building opened at 9 a.m. The line snaked through the parking lot and down Main Street, eventually curving along Sixth Street and around the block.
Groups of all ages and sizes waited in the sun, armed with tote bags, backpacks and cardboard boxes waiting to be filled with books. Some customers camped out the night before, said 83-year-old Linda Connell, who’s been volunteering with Friends of the Library for 43 years.
Nadia Jimenez traveled up from Orlando with her mother, Lisa Scott, to attend the book fair with her sister, Maya Jimenez. All three sported tote bags, ready to be filled with books, over their shoulders. For Nadia, 25, and her sister, 21, their trip was just one in a long line of book sale visits over the past few years, but they wanted to bring their mother for her first time.
Nadia graduated from UF in 2018, and she said she’s had luck using the book sale to supplement her growing book collection at an affordable price. She rarely goes in looking for something specific, but she leaves with full duffle bags, regardless.
Maya, who graduated from UF this year, said the book sale is an opportunity to pursue a love of reading in a more environmentally conscious way.
“It’s sustainable,” she said. “You’re giving a book a second life.”
Lilla Moye, 84, who’s been volunteering with Friends of the Library for 25 years, said the popularity of the book sale reflects her hope.
“It goes to show that there are still people who read,” she said.
Contact Veronica Nocera at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @vernocera.
Veronica Nocera is a first-year Journalism major with a History minor. This is her first semester on staff for The Alligator, where she works as Avenue News Assistant. She also writes for Rowdy Magazine.