A tall, dark-haired man scribbles on a bookmark, slides it inside Howard Zinn’s book “The People’s History of the United States,” and places the work of non-fiction on a short wooden bookcase facing the entrance to the basement of the Hampton Bays Public Library.
“I put them there so someone will buy them,” explained Sean Regan, a customer at a recent book sale held the library. He added that, in addition to buying used books, he likes to suggest titles to other shoppers.
Behind the Ponquogue Avenue library, away from the main entrance, there is a narrow brick staircase that leads to a basement filled with a variety of gently used books—mysteries, biographies, fantasies. The shelves touch the ceiling, and all are filled with old tomes that were donated to the library by community members.
For the past 15 years, the basement book sale—held from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. every Saturday throughout the year, and also from 4 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays in July and August—has been organized by the Friends of the Library, a group that raises money for the Hampton Bays Public Library.
Group members also hold “Lawn Sales,” used book sales that are held in the library’s front yard, on certain holidays, such as Memorial Day, when their ranks are extended to include local Girl Scouts
“There are many people in the community who help in different ways” said Sandy Howell, the president of the Friends of the Library. “It’s like a family down here to people.”
The book sale is organized by seven people, according to Friends of the Library volunteer Ellen Olsen, whose specialty is book recommendations. Ms. Olsen pointed out that her six associates all have different areas of expertise. John Vitti provides the “manpower” in that he does all of the heavy lifting, she said, while Connie Prevete is the children’s book specialist. Judi Gordon is the mysteries advisor, Karin McKenna is great at hunting down older books, Roz Funt organizes all of the donations, and, lastly, Denise Taylor oversees the inventory.
“It’s a very tight-knit group we have,” said Lonna Theiling, the book sale manager and a librarian at the Hampton Bays Public Library. “We really support each other.”
The weekly book sale—or biweekly, at least during the summer months—is made possible through a large number of donations, including books, movies, games and music. In fact, volunteers rarely turn away donations, aside for the occasional moldy book or sets that are missing a book or two.
“It’s like the biggest recycling center in Hampton Bays,” Ms. Theiling said. “And everybody wins, because the money goes to the library.”
Most of the items available for purchase range in price from 25 cents to $1. According to Ms. Theiling, in spite of the affordable prices, the sale still turns a decent profit for the library. An average Saturday afternoon typically generates several hundred dollars in revenue for the organization. The book sales attract a wide range of customers, from students who are looking for inexpensive books to teachers who are looking to expand their classroom libraries while working within limited budgets.
“For any teacher, it’s an excellent way to increase your collection,” said Marie Creste, a school librarian from Paramus, New Jersey, who shops at the sale while visiting the Hamptons.
Even books with lesser value, and titles that volunteers have too many duplicates of, are recycled. Boxes of old books are frequently mailed to veterans, local hospitals, a library in Afghanistan and even schools in Africa. Peter Tripodi of Hampton Bays, a regular customer at the book sales, delivers the boxes to organizations that distribute the used books to veterans and senior citizens.
“I just thought it would be a nice thing to do,” Mr. Tripodi said.
Those looking for a specific title can fill out a request form and book sale volunteers will do their best to set aside those books when they come across them. Also, every child who visits the sale for the first time goes home with a free book.
“It’s a sense of community,” Ms. Theiling said of the sales. “It’s more than a book sale.”