Friday, July 14, 2006

A visit to Des Moines book sale prep site

Business trips often contain unexpected pleasures.

Usually, for me, that means a side trip to a local bookstore. This week, in Des Moines, it was something totally different. I received a behind-the-scenes tour of preparations for Planned Parenthood’s annual book sale.

It’s easily the largest book sale in the Midwest. The tables are filled with more than 500,000 books, which are moved from the prep site to the sale site in six semi trucks.

This year the sale is September 14-18 at the 4-H State Fairgrounds.

Preparation for the sale, now held twice a year, goes on throughout the year. It all takes place in a building that was once a warehouse. It’s air conditioned; a previous building wasn’t.

Donations are received at the same building where the books are processed. It’s set up so that books can be left 24/7.

Donated books are sorted by volunteers, tossed into shopping carts and trundled off to other volunteers who evaluate and price the books. Volunteers have established areas of expertise; the woman who processes and prices romance books has gone so far as to identify about a dozen popular authors and, as much as possible, she puts all the books by each of these authors together. Her efforts have vastly increased sales in this category.

Once books have been priced, they are boxed by category. There’s a designation on the exterior of each box that indicates the exact table at the sale site where the box belongs. This expedites the process of setting up the sale site--organizers indicated that what once took 10 days now takes two.

In addition to the books there are magazines, records, DVDs and video tapes and puzzles. Other items are also donated, leading organizers to establish a garage sale of sorts in addition to the sale of books and related material.

An interesting feature at the sale itself is a storage area. Anyone buying large quantities of book can drop off their boxes and have those books processed for sale, while they continue to shop. In the past, organizers said they would often be tallying up a dealer’s purchases into the morning hours. Now, both purchaser and volunteer, get to go home at a more reasonable hour.

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