By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Volunteers at the Friends of Lee County Library Book Shop keep their eyes open.
“One of the first things I do after counting the money is search through the books,” said Vivian Fleming, 64, of Tupelo.
“We’ve learned,” added Kelly Tyer, 68, of Tupelo. “When we get ones we want to buy, we need to put them under our desk. One time, I put them on top of the desk and someone wanted them all. I lost them all.”
Thanks to purchases by customers and volunteers, the Friends Book Shop on the library’s bottom floor averages about $1,000 a month in sales, and $500 of that is dedicated to buying new books for the library.
“For example, if we need more graphic novels for the teens, we can go to them and ask,” said Jeff Tomlinson, library director. “A children’s book might cost $20, but it will be used hundreds of times in its lifetime. Their donations go a long way.”
The Book Shop was started in 1992, though some still don’t know it exists. It carries a wide range of donated books, some used and some new. It’s a catch-as-catch-can kind of place, where occasional treasures can be found.
Tyer once saw a copy of “The Groucho Letters” by Groucho Marx that appeared to feature the legendary funnyman’s autograph.
“I didn’t buy it, but I should have,” Tyer said. “It’s long gone now.”
“Do you remember how much it was?” Fleming said.
“$5,” Tyer said, followed by a theatrical groan.
Other rarities have included a book of Mississippi photographs with a forward by Willie Morris that sold for $100, and several signed John Grisham novels have spent time on the shop’s shelves.
Occasionally, someone will donate books that still are on the best-seller lists. They’re priced from $10 to $12, which is better than buying them new.
“The lesson is, if you see something, you better get it,” Fleming said.
Coming and going
Books are donated individually, by the bag, by the box or by the van load. Over the past four years, Dalton Anthony, 68, of Tupelo has loaded and unloaded more books that he cares to count.
“We’ve started going to estate sales,” Anthony said. “I went to an estate sale at a home that was full of books. It had 1,500 books that we were able to get. They gave them to us.”
The Book Shop also works in the other direction. An 87-year-old man from New Albany gave his book collection away to a museum, then decided that might not have been a good idea.
“He had someone drive him down here from New Albany on three different occasions,” Anthony said. “He bought a total of $1,200 in books.”
“Can you imagine how much he would’ve paid at a regular bookstore?” said Sue Shepherd, a volunteer.
Keeping it fresh
Until he resigned this past week, Anthony oversaw the book operation. The wear and tear of shelving, moving and otherwise dealing with donated books became too much, he said.
Anthony spent 35 years in education, most of them as a counselor, but he quickly adapted to retail practices when he became a volunteer.
One of his self-appointed duties was making sure the stock continuously rotated. Books moved from storage in the library’s garage to the shop and back again.
“I volunteer every other week and it’s totally different whenever I do,” Shepherd said.
“I come every week and it’s different,” Tyer said.
Anthony also ran special promotions, such as a Christmas in July sale last year.
“I even put up a Christmas tree,” he said.
“That did very well,” Tyer said.
The Book Shop requires a certain amount of hustle because donations aren’t as easy to come by as they once were. Other used bookstores have cut into the supply.
At the same time, the Book Shop has benefited from other bookstores. Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore donates each year, and Barnes & Noble supplies a batch three or four times a year. When the Cottage Bookstore shut down, some 6,500 hard-bound books were added to the shop’s shelves.
“The owner of Wise Owl Bookstore gives books to us,” Anthony said. “It’s upwards of 200 books that don’t fit into the categories of books she deals with, so she lets us have them. She puts a grocery bag in the window. That’s my cue to stop by.”
A little help
Friends of Lee County Library can always use volunteers to work in the shop. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and volunteers generally work two-hour shifts.
“I never have a flood of customers,” said volunteer Jamye Moshier, 77, of Saltillo. “It’s just slow and steady. Sometimes, I may have three people. That would be a crowd. I like it when we have customers come in because I like to talk.”
When the shop is closed, books and magazines are available for sale outside the shop. Some of the books out there sell for 25 cents. An honor box is available after store hours.
The Book Shop’s sections include rare books, Mississippi authors, Southern authors, cookbooks, religion, fiction and nonfiction. Children’s books are on the shelves when available, as are DVDs, CDs and vinyl records.
“We have loads of classics,” Fleming said. “Not just classics but young adult literature. Kids can come in here and for $1 they can buy a lot of books they’re assigned in class or just want to read.”
It seems like there are never enough nonfiction and religious books to meet demand. They tend to sell quickly.
On the flip side, the shop has no use for Reader’s Digest condensed books, damaged books, textbooks, encyclopedias and out-of-date news magazines.
In addition to contributing to the library’s permanent book collection, money raised by the shop supports summer reading programs and the Helen Foster Lecture Series.
“I’ve told people about the bookstore at the library and they’ve said, ‘What?’ They’ve never heard of it,” Anthony said. “If I had one big wish, I would want the people who have books and magazines clogging their basements and attics to bring them here. If in their closets they have to step over books to get to their shoes, they should bring them to the library. We can use them.”
The volunteers would appreciate it, too, since choice donations are sure to become their reading pleasure.
“After I take them home and read them,” Tyer said, “I always donate them back so they can be sold again.”