250,000 Books, 5,000 Buyers: AAUW’s 60th Used Book Sale Opens This Month | City and Dress

Shoppers are looking for favorites and bargains during the 2021 sale.

The 60th Annual State College AAUW Used Book Sale, one of the largest used book sales on the East Coast, takes place May 14-17 at Penn State’s Snider Agricultural Arena.

During the sale, thousands of visitors converge on the Ag Arena to browse and purchase up to a quarter of a million books and other materials. Special features include children’s books, collectibles, puzzles and games, a half price day and a discounted ‘bag day’.

Proceeds fund grants to support Center County nonprofit projects that align with AAUW’s mission, and scholarships for women residing in Center County. The sale also supports national AAUW initiatives, STEM programs in Center County, and branch programs.

Last year’s sale raised approximately $156,000 from more than 5,000 buyers. That’s impressive, considering the first sale in 1962 brought in $179.19. Regardless of the size of the sale during those early years, AAUW State College relied on member knowledge and past successes to continue this tradition of raising funds for community grants and scholarships for women and girls.

AAUW Used Book Sale Chair Dina Liberatore said, “This has proven to be something the community really appreciates and continues to support after all this time.”

The book sale features more than 250,000 titles in 30 categories, ranging from cookbooks to mysteries. Children’s books tend to be the most popular, says Liberatore. “It’s a great opportunity to find clean used books in a variety of fields,” she says.

All books are half price on May 16, and May 17 is bag day, when people can fill a “bring your own” bag with books for $8.

The books are donated during the year, cleaned and put away until the big weekend. Volunteers throw away damaged, highlighted and outdated books, making the event one of the “cleanest” sales around.

Since the 2021 sale, 2,500 boxes of books have been sorted and valued and are ready to go. Doors open promptly at 9 a.m. each day. Many buyers arrive early on the first day of the sale to be among the first to enter the Ag Arena. Penn State policy does not allow individuals to stay outdoors overnight, so those arriving as early as late Friday afternoon may place one box or container per person in line with their name on it to hold their place. People must line up, one person per box/container, by 6:30 a.m. on Saturday. It is then that the numbers are distributed to determine the order of entry into the arena; distribution ends at 8:45 a.m.

The sale of books has grown and evolved over the past 60 years. From the first workshop on West Aaron Drive to the current location on High Tech Road across from University Park Airport, the workshop has moved five times. Each move provided improved space for collecting and sorting books.

Selling changed as management innovated to make it more efficient and convenient for customers. Several thousand cans of tomatoes, purchased for $1 each in 1996, make it easier for volunteers to wrap, protect and stack books. In 2019, the used book sale began accepting credit cards on all four days of the sale, allowing for a faster and more convenient method of payment.

Jean Kerr and Eleanor Schempf sorting books in the early 1970s.

Even the time and place of sale has changed over the years. The first sales took place earlier in the year in the HUB, forcing the sale to compete with weather and other events. The sale moved to the Ag Arena in 1999 to allow more space for books and shoppers, and better parking. Mother’s Day weekend was a staple of sales until Penn State’s graduation moved to this weekend, making trips to sales, parking and finding hotels more difficult. Today, the sale has settled comfortably into the second weekend of May (although the 2021 sale has been postponed to October due to the pandemic).

One thing that hasn’t changed is the dedication of AAUW State College members and friends. It takes hundreds of volunteers to keep this well-oiled machine running, from those who sort and appraise the books to the volunteers who move the books around the Ag Arena and help throughout the sale. Without them, none of the good work AAUW State College does for women and the local community would be possible.

“We are lucky to live in a community that loves to read and supports education,” says Liberatore. T&G

Kristen Gimelli is a City and Dress intern graduated this month from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism.

Colin L. Johnson