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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    Tossing Lines: Dealers devour library book sales like locusts on plants

    An annual book sale in Raleigh, N.C., brings out the crowds. Photo by John Steward
    Patrons pore through used inventory during a book sale at the Salem Public Library a few years ago. Photo by John Steward
    Bibliophiles peruse the offerings at the semiannual Friends of Otis Library Book Sale on its opening day Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    My heart sank as I stood in the crowded lobby of the Mystic-Noank Library recently for an early preview of their used book sale. I spied the enemy in their usual place at the front of the line: two men (they’re always men, never women) with electronic phone-like inventory devices strapped to their wrists, wired to small handheld scanners. Both carried as many empty boxes as they could handle.

    They were book dealers, brazen predators who suck the lifeblood and enjoyment out of library book sales across the country. I’ve witnessed their destruction many times before, in Florida, North Carolina, and Connecticut. They’re like turbocharged termites, voraciously devouring entire sections of book collections in minutes.

    They rapidly scan book codes to determine whether they have it in their store inventory and, if not, it flies into one of the many empty boxes they carry. They can fill a box in less than a minute.

    They’re the bane of book lovers everywhere. I knew this small book sale was over before it began.

    I followed one of them to my usual first stop, the history section, where he moved like a man possessed, manically scanning and throwing books into a cardboard box on the floor, faster than I could read the titles, constantly trying to rudely maneuver in front of me. He was now the enemy, out to destroy an experience I hold sacred. My annoyance level rose, and I held my ground, enjoying his growing frustration.

    Then, I noticed boxes of books under the table that he hadn’t seen yet, so I began pulling one out to view its contents. Seeing me with virgin material, he broke his stride on the shelves above, and aggressively reached for the same box, as though he deserved access before me, a blatant attempt to beat me to the punch.

    Both our hands were on my box! All this a silent dance, not a word spoken, until I challenged him verbally, knowing full well he would never respond, nor care, for they never engage. I’ve confronted a few in the past, and, true to his species, he remained silent.

    They don’t waste valuable time on verbal interaction because there’s no defending the detriment they’re causing to book sale patrons. And time, even seconds, is money to these insatiable pests.

    Like the sociopaths they are, they also know neither courtesy nor remorse. Their behavior is legendary, documented in forums across the internet.

    After my denial, this one rapidly returned to his consuming rampage, books cascading into boxes like a waterfall.

    When he whined for more boxes (he can speak!), library personnel scrambled to accommodate him, and I knew then that true library book sales were a thing of the past.

    For the public, book sales are a treasure hunt.You never know what gem you might find to add to your collection, and when you do find that special book, it is far more affordable than on Amazon or wherever booksellers hawk their inflated wares.

    The literary intimacy of slowly browsing through tables of books is an experience savored by book lovers. Yet, fueled by promising profits, these predatory book dealers up the browsing pace to warp speed, shamefully turning an otherwise enjoyable occasion into Black Friday at Walmart.

    I understand that libraries and dealers are a match made in business heaven. Book sales are fundraisers. A library wants to make money, and booksellers want to buy cheap books to sell at triple the purchase price.

    But the reading public then become outsiders, politely tolerated intruders in a private business venture, welcome only to the debris field dealers leave scattered behind.

    Few deserve adequate funding more than libraries, but I wish they would consider their patrons first in book sales. Give us at least an hour or two with no sellers or scanners in the room, or, better yet, ban dealers entirely from preview events or the first day of a sale.

    Patrons are the library’s customer base throughout the year, on those other 362 days when there are no book sales. There may be little money in that, but it does deserve some level of respect.

    It’s insulting to see these destructive dealers bent on selling $20 books tomorrow that we could have bought seconds ago for three dollars. Never mind watching them throw the whole book sale experience willy nilly, illiterately, into their little cardboard dumpsters.

    John Steward lives in Waterford. He can be reached at tossinglines@gmail.com

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