Book Adventures

Exploring the Friends of the Library Book Sale

One of my favorite events in Ithaca, New York, is the Friends of the Library Book Sale. This event takes place over three weekends every fall and spring. Members of the local community and beyond line the block for a turn to wander through the shelves of used books, records, DVDs, and more.  

The book sale isn’t just a regular used book store. They accept donations all year and only open the warehouse on these special weekends for shopping. For the three weeks that the warehouse is open for shopping, prices of books on the main floor drop lower and lower. A trade paperback novel on the first Saturday of the sale will cost $4.50, but on the final Monday, it will cost only $0.10. 

A woman examines the titles on a bookshelf.

I’ve been attending the book sale for the past four years, and picking a weekend to go to the sale is always a big debate. On the first weekend, you’ll encounter the highest prices but the widest selection of books. By the final day, books are dirt cheap, but also there’s less to choose from. This year I decided to head to the sale on the final Saturday, when trade paperback books only cost $0.50.  

I bring the biggest tote bag I can find—this year that was my Waterstones Picadilly Circus tote bag—and load it up with as many titles as possible.

My friends often opt for the same strategy as me to carry their books, though other community members occasionally have more unique ways to cart books home. Wander the aisles and you’ll see people putting books in plastic bags, reusable grocery store bags, crates, shipping boxes, and more. Some browsers enter the space bare-handed—a mistake I made my first year. It’s not so easy to carry 10 books around with just two hands. If you have a book-buying problem like me, bring two bags or bring a book carrying helper. You’ll need it.  

I love getting swept up in the world of popular fiction. When I head to my local bookstore, my eyes are often drawn to the most popular titles. I like to read books that other people are also reading so that I can take part in discussions. But every year I vow to go into the book sale with no preconceived notions of what I’m looking for. In all of my trips, I’ve never found a copy of a super popular recent publication, anyway. I think that’s part of the allure of the book sale. You’re browsing old books. Books that—for one reason or another—need a new home and a new reader. I’ve occasionally found surprised tucked away in old books. There’s been a few with names scrawled on the inside. Last year, I purchased a copy of On Beauty by Zadie Smith. A year later, when I finally got around to reading it, I discovered that someone had left leaves pressed in the pages. 

A photo of a long aisle of books in a warehouse.

As I wandered the long aisles, my eyes were drawn to authors I’ve always wanted to try reading and books that I’ve always wanted to buy but always passed on for a newer, trendier book. Don’t get me wrong, I love my new adult romances and young adult fantasies. But at the book sale, I’m picking books for the type of reader I am outside of those popular genres. In the past two years, I’ve discovered that I’m finally at the age to appreciate classic novels, so I picked up a copy of Wuthering Heights. I also took home another Nora Roberts novel, my first one since I was introduced to her through a blind date with a book in Notting Hill.  

In the end, I spent $2.16 and got five books (seven books technically, as one book has an entire trilogy in it). As a college student, I’ll take any opportunity that I can to get books at a low price. The atmosphere, experiences, and prices of the Friends of the Library Book Sale are unbeatable.  

Book Sale Purchase List:  

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