A man donning a cowboy hat, enjoying the first couple pages of a newly purchased used book, leans against the side of a small portable building tucked behind the back of a parking lot. Just above him, tacked to the peeling walls of the building on wheels, a bright yellow sign boldly reads “Book Sale.” Inside, arms and bags fill up with books as young and old hands flip pages and browse through titles for hours.
On the second weekend of every month, the Friends of Palo Alto Library, a nonprofit organization, hosts a used book sale at Cubberly Community Center. Starting at 11 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m., the sale, which attracts around 2,200 people, takes place in three small portable buildings interspersed across two parking lots. The first building holds adult reads, the second is dedicated to children’s books and the third is the bargain room.
In each room, customers are welcomed by volunteers and hundreds of books stacked neatly on shelves. In the bargain room, the simple directions of “take a bag and fill it for five bucks” opens up a realm of possibilities for the countless customers that file into the portables every month.
San Francisco resident and customer Mikiko Kitago has only attended the book sale twice, but has already fallen in love with the event.
“I like that it’s in a cool space,” Kitago says. “You can come to the bargain section and have the option of going all over, seeing the same people every month.”
Like Kitago, many customers enjoy the tight-knit community forged between customers and volunteers, along with the thrill of discovering new books within the walls of the three small portables.
Past a room of shoppers and tucked behind a small labyrinth of human-sized stacks of boxes is the five-by-five foot office of the sales manager and sole employee of FOPAL, Jannette Herceg.
“We, at the end of each sale, will donate as many books as nonprofits can take from our bargain room.”
— Jannette Herceg, FOPAL Volunteer and Sales Manager
Herceg, who was born and raised in Palo Alto, supervises the monthly events and gathers and trains the 60 volunteers required for every sale. Apart from her duties organizing and preparing the sales, Herceg also manages the many giveaways to nonprofit organizations that occur after every sale.
“We, at the end of each sale, will donate as many books as the nonprofits can take from our bargain room,” she says. “Those books will end up in local churches, maybe juvenile hall; they’ll end up at the local jails; they’ll also end up going to other countries.”
To Herceg, the most important aspect of the book sales is the fact that none of the books will go to waste or get dumped in landfills. Rather, they will find their way to the hands of nonprofit organizations or those without easy access to books.
In the last 80 years, FOPAL’s Public Private Partnership with Palo Alto’s local libraries has not only helped nonprofit organizations but also managed to donate around $3 million to the public libraries. This money funds projects, classes, special events and ongoing activities at the libraries, such as Paws to Read, a program that brings service dogs into the libraries so that young kids with speech impediments can read to them.
“It’s all good,” Herceg says about her job at FOPAL. “It’s not about the money. It’s [about] meeting people and being able to facilitate in the process of watching a young person develop through the program.”