Books are expensive. As someone who's been both a bookstore employee and a book buyer, I can attest to that. And I'm sure you know that too. As a librarian, obviously, I always recommend coming to the library where you can get as many books as you want for free.
But I also understand the importance of owning your own books. I have a huge collection (part of it is pictured here) and those books are truly special because we can return to them month after month, year after year. But how do you amass such a collection on a budget? Here's some advice: it's all about book sales. Now, I'm not talking about used bookstores. I love those too, but the books are often between $5 and $10 each.
I'm talking about the magic sales. The ones where hardcovers are $1 and paperbacks are 50 cents. Haven't seen one? You can find them in nearly every community.
Start with your local library. Virtually every library has an ongoing book sale. There you'll find books that were removed from the library because they're not in good enough shape for the collection. You'll also see lots of books that were donated to the library but weren't needed in the collection. Most library systems also have large book sales too, usually once or twice a year. The book sales are run by the Friends of the Library, and all of the money goes directly to the library. And it's not just libraries. I've seen $1 books at sales organized by elementary schools, churches, preschools, scout troops, etc. Look around, and you'll find them. The one pictured below is from Arlington Public Library's incredible semi-annual book sale. (Keep in mind that you're only seeing a very small part of it in the picture.)
And once you find them, here are a few tips about how to make the most out of them:
-Arrive early, arrive early, arrive early. I can't stress this enough. That's when the good books are for sale. If you wait towards the end, you'll be looking at the dregs.
-Buy hardcover books. I've got nothing against paperbacks, but let's face it, they're cheaper. An average children's picture book costs between $6-$8 in paper and $15-$20 in hardcover. You get the most bang for your buck with the hardcover books, which last much longer. At a large book sale like the ones I'm describing, if you come early it is possible to get 15 hardcover books in newish condition for $15... or the same price as one hardcover picture book in a store.
-Stock up on series. Does your child have a favorite series? You'll always find these books at book sales. You can pick up a multitude of Magic Tree House or Berenstain Bear books, for example, for fifty cents each (and sometimes 25 cents!) These all come in paperbacks, which of course negates the piece of advice above.
-Buy books that are rare. I know I just told you to buy well known and popular books. But, also keep an eye out for books that you don't see everywhere. For example, Good Night Moon and the Very Hungry Caterpillar are everywhere. They're easy to find. But that book you loved as a child that's out of print now is harder to come by. Snatch it up before someone else does.
-Volunteer to help with the book sale. I've helped sort donations and organize the books for a few of these kinds of sales. It's great fun and extremely helpful to the organization running it. You don't need to know anything about books... except maybe the difference between picture books and chapter books. Plus, you're one of the very first people to see the available books.
Can't find a book sale like this anywhere near you? Organize one yourself. It's a great fundraiser for any non-profit organization. Donations are not hard to come by... everyone has a box of books or two they aren't using in their attic or basement.
Keep in mind that what you can get at a book sale varies wildly. If you're looking for a specific book, you should definitely go to a book store. If you're looking for a serendipitous find at a low price, try a book sale. Why did I write this post today? Because this weekend, at my son's elementary school I bought a stack of books that were a mixture of hardcovers, paperbacks and series, plus CDs and DVDs for $12.50. The actual retail price was over $200.
If you're ever in the DC area, be sure to make a special stop in Montgomery County, Maryland. The Montgomery County Friends of the Library run three permanent year-round bookstores where the books are a dollar and below. Don't miss the one at the Wheaton Library, the bookstore there is absolutely enormous and larger than many retail bookstores.
Have you found something incredible at one of these sales? Do you know of a great sale that you want to tell us about? Please leave a comment!