How the Book Sale was built


If you’ve ever helped a book lover move to a new house, you know just a fraction of what it’s like to get ready for the Friends of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library Annual Book Sale. This year’s sale is Fri. through Sun. Sept. 19 – 22 at the Kansas Expocentre’s Ag Hall.

But before the Friends Book Sale opens, 1200 boxes stuffed full of great books and media have to make their way to Ag Hall at the Kansas Expocentre. It sounds like a herculean feat, but, actually, the sale has been going off without a hitch since the 1970’s. It’s a Topeka tradition, an annual rite of fall.

And the Friends have the process down pat, says Warren Taylor, 35-year-plus veteran of the sale, its current chairman and vice president of the Friends.

“At one time, it was the only fundraiser for the Friends,” remembers Warren.

Warren Taylor

Warren Taylor

Now the Friends have several channels of fundraising, including the Chandler Booktique and the Online Book Store. But the sale is still vital to helping the Friends channel funds to the library.

“This is not a situation of ‘just stick it in a fund somewhere.’ The money is used,” says Warren. “Last year, the Friends were able to give $100,000 to the library.”

“The Friends donate to the library with funds that are used for programming, but also for seed money to try out innovative ideas such as the smartlocker,” says Mary Campbell, Friends manager.

The success of the event rests in the hardworking hands of up to 300 volunteers. From the moment a book donation arrives at the dock to its arrival at a table in Ag Hall, volunteers are enthusiastically digging in.

Here’s how they make it happen:

  • All year, books and other items are donated right at the library’s loading dock. A volunteer or a library employee does a quick sort. Sometimes they discover odd things have happened to be left in the boxes, like bronzed baby shoes, posters or an old vision chart. Some of that stuff winds up in the “Museum,” a shelf located inside the Online Books room.
Topeka Library Book Sale Loading Dock

James Serrano, library maintenance, helps a donor unload books

Topeka Library Book Sale 3

Ann Semler, book prep coordinator, sorts the books as they come to the dock.

Topeka Library Book Sale 3 - the Museum

“The Museum” is a fun area in the Online Books room that staff and volunteers populate with items donated by accident.

  • In online books, volunteers or staff members do “scans” on the books. They go online and do research into the title. Is it rare? How much is it worth on Amazon? Their findings will decide if the book is sent to the Booktique, to the Book Sale or stays in Online Books where it will be sold online and shipped out directly from the library’s mail room.
  • If it’s headed to the Book Sale, the books travel down to a storage facility, where volunteers clean and price the books and either shelve them for the Booktique or box them up for the Book Sale. There are so, so many boxes.

Topeka Book Sale 5

Box of books


Topeka Library Book Sale

  • The boxes go to yet another storage facility until the Thursday before the event, when they’re delivered to Ag Hall. Once the boxes are unloaded, a team of volunteers, led by young ROTC members, unpack and sort the books onto tables.

This is the part where the book-maniacs come breaking down the doors, eager to gobble up new plotlines and information. Get all the information on hours, prices, what’s available and a map of the book sale here at the Book Sale page.

And then stop by and get your fall started right with some cheap (but oh so good) reads, Sept. 19 – 21. The dollars you spend supporting your love of reading support the library you love. Don’t forget to say hello to a hardworking volunteer while you’re shopping.

Leah Sewell

As the library's communications editor, Leah works to name the seemingly endless ways our library is special. One of her favorite parts of the day is the walk up the library's bricked drive and into a sunlit rotunda. She's a mom to two wily youths, a writer, cook and rabid fan of anything literary and writerly.

  • Ann Elmborg Semler

    I feel compelled to clarify a point regarding some of the unusual donations. They are more often than not donated by accident. The “bronze” baby shoes (which are actually sprayed with gold spray paint) were wrapped in tissue for protection. Feel free to come and see.

  • Ann Elmborg Semler

    (Double negative apology. They are more often than not not donated my accident)