Sue Johns wandered into the Friends of the Library Book Shop in Cooper Hall, next door to Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton Village, in 2006, looking for some books for her grandchildren.“The children’s area was a wreck,” says the retired teacher and school librarian. “I offered to help organize it, and one of the women who was here, who’s now deceased, said, ‘Oh, darling, would you?’ And that was that. I was hooked, and I’ve been doing it since then.”
The shop seems to have that effect. Every inch of the space is packed with books, many in like-new condition, and the shop is staffed entirely by volunteers. Like Ms. Johns, many of those volunteers stopped in to have a look at the books and found a home away from home.
Lois Dusza, a Medford resident who dropped in after a nearby yoga class three years ago, found a book of essays she had been looking for—“A Chance Meeting” by Rachel Cohen—and mentioned to Ms. Johns that the book had been shelved in the wrong spot. “She said, ‘Why don’t you volunteer?’ And here I am.
“When I first walked into this little place, the bell rang over the door, and it reminded me of a little bookstore I knew in England,” Ms. Dusza adds. “I just love the place. It’s filled with wonderful books, the volunteers are so nice, and you never know who you’re going to meet coming in the door.”
Books are organized into categories, including history, biography, garden, cookbooks, art, home décor and children’s. Mysteries and thrillers, classics and bestsellers are among the most popular. A children’s nook houses new and classic books for young readers and offers a comfy place for them to peruse their choices. The shop also stocks audiobooks, DVDs and music CDs.
Volunteers who know the most about books are charged with sorting donations and weeding out books that haven’t sold in a while, so the stock changes constantly.
And while most people think of books as something to be read, the shop is also frequented by shoppers seeking that perfect finishing touch for a home library.
“We get people who buy new houses and need to fill bookshelves,” says Ms. Johns. “Or decorators looking for leather-bound books with attractive bindings. We had a man who just bought a house up in Maine, and he came in and bought hundreds of dollars worth of books.”
At Friends’ bookshop prices, that’s a lot of books. A brand new hardcover copy of Bill Bryson’s classic “A Walk in the Woods” is priced at $3. Ms. Johns says a really great coffee-table book might be tagged as high as $20, but many items go for as little as $1.
Since its founding in 1973, all the money raised by the bookshop goes to support library programs not covered by tax dollars. Book sales pay for free passes for library patrons to a slew of museums, including, in New York City, the American Museum of Natural History, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, MoMA, Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, The Frick Collection, Guggenheim Museum and the New York Historical Society Museum & Library.
On the East End, passes are available for Bridge Gardens, LongHouse Reserve, Children’s Museum of the East End, Parrish Art Museum, Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center & Museum and the South Fork Natural History Museum.
The Friends also sponsor Sunday afternoon concerts and other events at the library, as well as reading programs for children and adults, and Santa’s annual visit to the children’s department. The teen department is organizing a trip to take local students to see Wicked on Broadway, also courtesy of the Friends of the Library.
Ms. Johns, who had only recently moved to Southampton when she stumbled upon the bookshop, is now president of the Rogers Memorial Library Board of Trustees and sits on the board of Friends of the Library. She still manages the children’s section, along with helping manager Joyce Sherba keep the rest of the books organized and moving along.
Books that aren’t seen as likely to sell are donated to schools, shelters and senior citizens groups. Recently, said Ms. Sherba, a large quantity of children’s books were sent to Malawi, where a Sag Harbor woman is working to establish two children’s libraries.
Nobody seems to be really clear on exactly how many books the Friends handle over the course of a year, but Ms. Sherba says, “It seems like millions. I came in the other day, and there were six bins filled to capacity, plus boxes that had been dropped off overnight. We’ve had full trucks pull up when someone was closing an estate and wanted to donate their books.”
All the volunteers take pride in the depth and variety of the books that pass through Cooper Hall. “I love going through the books and looking to see what kinds of things are coming in,” says Ms. Sherba. “I’ve always collected books myself, since I was a young kid. Sometimes we get rare books, or I’ll come across a title I remember from long ago. It’s very gratifying.”
Ms. Johns remembers coming across an autographed copy of a book by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. “I think that one came in through the book drop,” she said, so there was no way to identify the donor.
Some of the most valuable donations are sold on eBay, where they can raise more money than they would likely sell for to local shoppers. The Yeats volume brought in around $1,000.
With the holidays coming, the Friends bookshop is holding a special half-price sale on all its books through December 6. The shop will also be raffling off two book baskets, one for children and one for adults. Tickets are $1 each and are available at the bookshop through December 6.
The Friends Bookshop is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. year-round, and Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in June, July and August. Books can be dropped off at the shop or through the book drop, located at the front entrance to the Rogers Memorial Library.
Love books and got a few hours a month free? Volunteers are always welcome.
Call Joyce Sherba at (917) 608-5388 to arrange pick-up for larger collections or to find out more about volunteering your time.