When Jane Addams Met Radar O’Reilly

John Clark on an unusual offshoot of his careers as author and librarian. One of my fellow graduates of the University of South Carolina masters in library and information science program, Debbie Lozito, once observed that librarians exist so people can get rid of books without feeling guilty.

As time has gone on, I’ve realized how correct she was. It began when I was the library director in Boothbay Harbor. The library was blessed with a great friends group that ran a used bookstore next to the library. When someone moved or died, the library was one of the first places to be contacted. I often took my pick-up to a residence and returned with boxes of books. I realized it was a smart move to triage donations and replace worn copies of popular fiction titles, saving money and keeping patrons happy.

My first ah-ha moment about how far such a process would go came when a woman I was helping with her Ph.D. by getting articles, called in a panic. She and her husband ran a motel and new owners fired them, giving them just a few days to vacate the premises. She asked if I would be willing to stop by and take things they couldn’t justify holding onto. By the time I drove home that night, my truck was piled high with everything from dried flower wreaths, maple syrup, chairs, and even a set of antique silverware.

There was a lull when I worked at the Maine State Library, but once I started at the Hartland Public Library, I was right back in business. The more folks learned about my willingness to accept and find homes for books, the higher the volume. One of the local church thrift stores brought their excess when they ran out of room. Some were added to the collection, some sold to a couple local book dealers, but then I discovered a new resource.

www.paperbackswap.com is a website (along with sister sites for music CDs and DVDs), where members can list books and audiobooks they want to swap. Each book claimed costs the requester one credit which goes to the person offering the book. I used it extensively to expand the mystery, christian fiction, and young adult fiction collections in the library. Even though retired, I continue to swap there, mostly for young adult and science fiction titles not held by a Maine library. Once I’ve read them, I pass them on, usually to a school library. As of this date, I have sent, or received 12,005 books.

In addition to becoming a resource for people looking to declutter/downsize their collections, I started selling surplus books online, initially to benefit the Hartland Library. Three academic institutions had books they needed to get rid of, stuff most wouldn’t think had much value, but I once sold a book on aircraft seat design for $400+. A batch of theology books went west with my brother-in-law to become part of my college professor nephew’s reference library. I also used Paperbackswap to acquire books for library patrons and family members.

When I retired seven years ago, I thought my book re-homing might slow or stop, but it hasn’t been the case. I’ve continued selling online, mostly for myself, but also for a library and a couple who were very generous to the Hartland library before moving to Massachusetts.

I’ve found homes for a couple hundred mysteries passed on by a judge in a national mystery contest. They all reside on shelves in smaller Maine libraries with limited budgets. Several times, I’ve gotten books from a fellow MCW blogger when they ran out of room. I’ve even had some of the people I swim with ask if I’d find homes for some of their surplus books.

Last summer, a fellow librarian contacted me about helping some house cleaners who were tasked with getting the former home of a professor of Chinese language ready to be sold. I got in touch with the cleaners and not only returned with a car full of books, but some classic Fisher-Price toys that my younger granddaughter now enjoys. Some of the books in Mandarin now reside with another retired Chinese language professor in Minnesota. The other morning, on a whim, I jokingly asked the swimmer who passed books on to me if she wanted any books in Mandarin. Well, it turns out she has a grandson who is Chinese, so I’m passing books on to her tomorrow.

Unless a book is too outdated, too torn up, or smells, I do my best to re-home it. It’s an enjoyable challenge and keeps retirement interesting.

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2 Responses to When Jane Addams Met Radar O’Reilly

  1. Alice says:

    As another retired librarian, I truly relate to this blog. Our library and the bookshop receive many of our purchases. Books go around & around.

  2. Kate Flora says:

    We have a little library built by your wonderful son-in-lawRuss. It is another great way to share books.

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