Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Volunteers make it happen

The George Mason Regional Library book sale was a month ago. I am still amazed. This was an unusual sale in that the ebb and flow of customers was not what we expected. The crowds on Thursday night were down making parking much easier for those who did come. Friday, on the other hand, was a constant stream of people. Saturday was a rainy day and many people stayed out of the wet. Finally, Sunday came and the people came and they came and they came.

What made it all happen, though, were the people who worked at the sale. There were people who have been cashiering at the sales since the sales started twenty years ago. We had people who just decided to sign up right before the sale. There were middle school students, high school students, and recent retirees. One was a doctor taking a break. It was amazing.

We had people pop into the library to return a book and stay to work at the sale. We had people come for two hours and stay all day. We had people who came for one day and then returned and then returned. Thanks to all these people, we were able to keep lines to a minimum when it came time to actually tally and pay.

Let me not forget the behind-the-scenes people, the ones who got the books out of the boxes and the ones who cleared away the books at the end of the sale. It takes a lot of time to unpack 48 boxes of books in various languages, sort them out, and then display them so that shoppers can find their particular language. It takes a long time to unpack 100 boxes of Suspense novels. All these efforts greatly contributed to the success of the sale.

In the midst of the bustle of the book sale, I doubt that I was effusive enough in my thanks for all these people. I did notice your efforts and I did and do appreciate them. I hope you had a good time and were able to meet a few new people. When I first started volunteering with this group, one of the benefits I gained was a community of readers who wanted to share their favorites. I hope you experienced this as well.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Taking Things for Granted

We are counting down to the final meetings regarding the 2011 budget in Fairfax County. I know that when my kids were still in public school, that I heard much from the school system, the PTAs, and fellow parents regarding the needs of the school system. It is only since I became involved with the library system that I have begun to learn about the libraries.

It is easy to take things for granted. I never paid attention to the fine print when I took my kids to programs at the Library. I took it for granted that a library near me would have a weekly story hour. I took it for granted that most common magazines would be available at the local library. I took the library hours for granted.

I have learned not to take so much for granted. If the staff is cut back so that management has to choose between staffing the information desk and providing a story hour, the story hour will lose. The magazine subscriptions are running out. Start looking for big holes in the displays.

When my kids were in school, we made a lot of trips to the library on Sunday pulling together a project due on Monday morning. Years ago, I could go to the library on Sunday any time up until 8 pm. Those hours got cut back to 6pm in the previous recession and were never restored. In this recession, two more hours were cut so Sunday hours are now 1 to 5 pm. Are all Sunday hours the next to go?

We made our fair share of dashes to the library on weekday evenings as well. We might have supper, then scouts, then the library, then home. Now, the library is closed before I have supper except for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Those weeknights, the library closes at 8 pm. Judging from the volume of books to be checked in early on Friday, a lot of people are surprised to find the library closed on Thursday evenings.

Next July, what changes are we going to see at the library?

If you haven't gone to a budget meeting, then visit the Fairfax County website. Read about it. There is still time to attend a meeting.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Life in France and High on Arrival

I handled lots of books yesterday. Three stand out in my mind. The books were My Life in France by Julia Child, High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips and Spartan Gold by Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood.

What do these books have in common? They were all donated to the Friends. Two were just published this year. The Julia Child book is more popular now than when it was published because of the movie Julia and Julie with Meryl Streep. If you walked into any Fairfax County Library you would not be able to check them out. All available copies are already checked out. If you placed a hold on any of these books, you would join a long list of people who would like to read the same book.

Where are these books now? I didn't save them for our sale next April. I didn't list them on Amazon. I gave them to the right person who will see to it that they are added to the system's collection. The books will soon be circulating, allowing a few people to read the book a little sooner than might otherwise have been the case.

The Friends don't believe in giving money to the library to buy books for the collection. We believe the county should be funding the collection. We are happy to give actual books to the library to build the collection. It is a subtle distinction. We gave up a few dollars in possible sales next April while the library gained much needed material now.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sad Librarians

When I blogged about the few programs actually done by librarians, I left out some important information. I didn't mean to imply that the librarians don't enjoy doing programs; the contrary is true. They like the children's story hours and they wish that they could have done the book talks at the elementary schools last June. They have great ideas for programs for pre-teens, teens, and adults but they just don't have the resources to implement their ideas.

It takes time to prepare and conduct programs. The staff has been reduced to such a level that it is harder for them to cover their regular duties, like the information desk, and to do the jobs in the back room that need to be done. There are simply not enough staff hours to do everything.

I know staff members who are frustrated, disappointed, and saddened that they can no longer share their knowledge and passions with the public in the ways we have come to expect.

The Friends began their operations with enrichment projects. We would like to be the icing on the cake at the library. We don't want to replace the county and state government in their roles in providing for libraries.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Today I was talking to some friends about what the various Friends of the Library groups do for the system. One of the comments made me think about how the general public thinks that everyone they see at the library is paid staff and everything at the library is paid for with tax dollars. Today I am starting a series on how wrong that idea is.

Let me start first with my favorite euphemism: co-sponsored. In the monthly calendar published by FCPL, there are descriptions of programs to sign up for. The editors use co-sponsored by; I prefer the clear phrase paid for by.

First up for George Mason Regional Library is Personalized Internet Tutoring. Who provides this service? A volunteer.

Second up, English Conversation Group. Who leads the group? A volunteer.

Third up, Yoga for Seniors. Shakta Khalsa leads this program. FCPL signed a contract with her and provides a room. In this case, co-sponsored by the Friends of the George Mason Regional Library means paid by the Friends.

Next up, Please and Thank You, stories for 2-3 year olds. This program is presented by a paid staff member.

The list of programs goes on. When you get to Golden Oldies, a movie, you might think no cost. Wrong. To show a movie in a public place, a movie license must be purchased. Who pays? It's the Friends of the George Mason Regional Libary, who also pay for the refreshments.

Come to the library. Great things are happening there. Don't always assume that tax dollars are paying for it all.

Today's secret: sometimes people register for programs and then don't attend. Check with the staff about whether or not they will let in people to replace the no-shows.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fairfax County Community Dialog Meetings

I hate meetings. I have long lists of ways I prefer to spend my time. I find excuses to avoid meetings. That said, I plan to attend the November meeting on the FY2011 budget at George Mason Regional Library.

Why am I putting myself through something I hate? More than hating meetings, I love Libraries, Parks and Recreation. I think they constitute some of the best that County government has to offer. Last year, this part of the County Budget was in the neighborhood of 1% of the county budget. The schools were 52%. After the budget cuts were said and down the school percentage had grown to 54% and Libraries, Parks, and Recreation had shrunk.

As a percentage of their budget, Libraries lost 18% of their budget. This percentage was much bigger than many county agencies. Library hours were lost. Many staff positions were lost. The budget for acquiring materials was cut in half. The library system is already set up so that a new hire with a Master's Degree in Library Science can only get a part-time job. Think of that. No full time work with a Master's Degree.

This situation is wrong, wrong, wrong. It is getting worse, worse, worse. For the next fiscal year, the Library is being asked to take another 15% off their budget. It is going to be ugly.

Go to these meetings. Speak out for what you believe in.

Visit your library. Visit your parks. Visit your nature centers. Talk to the staff and then go to these meetings.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Benefits of Volunteering

Volunteering, according to the people who study people, provides a host of benefits. The one most commonly mentioned is gaining a feeling of helping others. The popular phrase is giving back. Providing service to the larger community helps the volunteer's sense of esteem by helping focus on life beyond the individual. It can be a rush.

Another benefit is it expands your social circle. Everyone who has been outside of school for any period has noticed how your social circle can contract. Being a volunteer can certainly help you meet people.

With the George Mason Friends, there is a lesser known but very tangible benefit. You gain a personalized book search service. Largely this is an informal operation. Someone will mention that they have discovered so-and-so's books and people will start looking for them. The volunteer pays for the book; the search doesn't cost extra. If you have been volunteering with the Friends and are looking for an author, please let us know.

What have I found in the past? The list includes Sister Wendy books, paperbacks by Donna Leon, novels based on King Arthur and Camelot, books by Daphne DuMaurier, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, cookbooks published by America's Test Kitchen or Cook's Illustrated, Superman comic books, Delderfield novels, Clavell novels and James Patterson novels.

Why do I look for books? I think it is fun (yes, that is just a bit warped). It is a challenge to handle hundreds of books every week and every once in a while find a book that will please a particular person. As anyone who goes to book sales knows, a best seller of five years ago is extremely easy to find. An author from thirty years ago who didn't become a modern classic is a lot harder. Delderfield is such a person. Daphne DuMaurier's books other than Rebecca are also fairly uncommon.

So, Friends' volunteers and book lovers, save yourself the Amazon postage and enter the world of serendipity. Tell us a book you have been thinking about buying used and we will see what we can do for you.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Book Sale Day 4

Today was the last day of the Fall 2009 sale. Now we go back to our routine. We look at books that have been donated to us, we sort them, price them, store them until next April.

For those who fear that we won't have any selection if they come to our sale on the last day, let me say that two trucks came to take away the remains of our sale. Many book sales don't have enough to fill two trucks on the first day of the sale.

I must say it has been a full four days, full of books and people and happy shoppers.

The next question many people ask is what we are going to do with all this money. Let me tell you it takes a lot of books being sold to bring a professional puppet show to the library. Imagine repeating that across all 23 branches in the Fairfax County system. We do bring puppet shows and magic acts and drummers and professional storytellers to every branch in the system as part of the Summer Reading Program, all 23 branches. Plan to attend them next year.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Sale Day 3 Setting: Sale Dates

Again, no photographs. I really like having a photograph to talk about. Instead let me talk about how we set the dates of our sales.

As many people have commented, three libraries are having major sales this weekend. The biggest one in this area is at Arlington County's Central Library. I wish I could say that we are bigger but I know it isn't true. Being prejudiced I think we are better but that is a subjective judgement. The other one I know of is at Chantilly Regional Library in Chantilly which is in the western part of Fairfax County.

Some people are happy that there are multiple sales in multiple places so they can have lots of choices. Some people are sad because they like to be at opening night and can't be in three places at once. These are the people who wish we would coordinate our sales dates and stagger them.

At George Mason, we think it would be a great idea to coordinate but don't know how to do it. The problem is that demand for meeting room space in Fairfax County is very high. We have to reserve the space for our sale as soon as the Library system opens its books for the next year. That means that we picked our date in June of 2008 for both the spring sale and the fall sale of 2009.

The constraints we have are many. First, we can't have use of the rooms the second Wednesday of the month because the Fairfax County Library Board usually meets at George Mason on that date. Second, we need to check religious holidays. We can't impact people's plans for Easter, Yom Kippur, or Rosh Hashanah. Third, we need to watch the dates for Columbus Day when the library is closed. We also don't want to touch Mother's Day or Halloween. It does feel like a juggling act at times.

The result of all these considerations is that we don't have much leeway. So for all those who are inconvenienced, I can only say I am sorry. I would love to have gone to the Arlington sale myself. Someday, I hope to get to the Chantilly sale but it just hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, come when you can.

Hope to see you on Sunday.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fall Sale Day 1

I don't have pictures this time but I have mental images so I will try to convey them.

First, today was a beautiful day. It was great to be outside. I hope that the people who waited in line enjoyed the weather, the warmth and the sun after our four days of gray and drizzle last week end. I understand we have some more of the gray and wet coming so whenever I could get outside today, I savored it.

Second, the people were beautiful. We had some last minute volunteers. They provided much needed hands in running the sale. Two were two college students. I was impressed that these two young people would clear a full evening to volunteer.

I worked with some of the school-age volunteers, many of whom were getting some of their required community service hours with us. Two charming girls from Queen of Apostles handed out maps to people waiting in line and conducted an informal survey. We are trying to learn how to reach potential customers better. Two eager young men searched for books. Another young woman helped take purchases to people's cars. Another young man helped to keep the sales floor looking good. Anyone who has ever been to any kind of sale knows how things can get haphazard in a hurry so no one can find anything. Wednesday afternoon, another young woman helped me for an hour as we finally got price cards on books in a display case. Their help was much appreciated.

Did you notice in the last paragraph when I said that two young men searched for books? We have people in each area who will help customers find something in particular. Sometimes, a student is looking for a book for school. Sometimes, another book by a favorite author is wanted. We enjoy helping in the search for those requests.

Their search was for a different purpose. To give some background, the George Mason Friends do not give cash money to either George Mason Regional Library or Fairfax County Public Library to buy books to add to the collection. What we will do is give donated books to the library instead of selling them. In particular, at George Mason, when a staff member finds that a copy has just worn out but is still being circulated, we will search for a replacement copy. Tonight, these young men did that difficult search and came up with a number of books which will replace a worn out book in the collection. Our way of maintaining the collection is growing in importance given the 50% cut to the budget for the collection in FY2010 and the expectation of even deeper cuts to the budget in FY2011.

Finally, the books are beautiful. I read a lot. I see a fair percentage of the books that go into the sale as I work with them for the six months between sales. Still, at every sale without exception, I will see a customer buy a book that I might have bought if I had seen it first. Sometimes, the item might be a book by an author not commonly found in FCPL libraries. George Garrett comes to mind. Sometimes, the item is a music CD. Sometimes, it is a video. I just discovered a British production whose main characters are gardeners. Sometimes, the happy purchaser clues me in on a new author or musician or movie.

Tomorrow is day 2. The tables of books are still full. Hope to see you there.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Getting Prepared For Buyers

Just how big is this sale. Let me say that what you see in this photograph is half of one room.

This sale is in multiple parts of the library. We use rooms on either side of the lobby, the lobby, an area just inside the lobby, an area half way into the building where there are usually tables for patrons to use, and another area all the way to the back of the library.

So, if you come, don't stop with the front of the building.

A word to the wise, the sale doesn't use the Dewey decimal system. We put books together in ways that work for us. So, English-Spanish dictionaries are with Spanish in Foreign Languages. Spanish phrase books when they are pocket-sized are also in Travel. A memoir about living in Spain is in Travel. The good news is there are plenty of people around to point you in the right direction.

Recent Books, published in 2009

Some people think of book sales as being old, musty books. Now I admit I have featured plenty of old books so far in this blog. We try not to have musty books in the sale at all. Now I am showing you some of the recent books going into the sale. These three photographs are just the tip of the iceberg.

(Pictured are James Lee Burke's Rain Cross,
Jonathan Kellerman's True Detectives, Peter Robinson's All the Colors of Darkness, Lindsay Davis's Alexandria, C.J. Box's Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, and M.C. Beaton's Death of a Witch.)

If you look closely at the book by Brad Thor, you will see the word "Autographed" on the same slip. We also have a lot of books signed by their authors. Some books with signatures cost about the same as a copy without that extra touch of the author.

(Pictured are Brad Thor's The Apostle, James Patterson's Swimsuit, David Baldacci's First Family, Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow, and Clive Cussler's Medusa.)

If you are interested in books published in 2009, look for the lilac paper bookmarks. If you are interested in signatures, look for the goldenrod papers.

(Books pictured include Alexander McCall Smith's The Lost Art of Gratitude and Nevada Barr's Borderline.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book Sale Volunteer Privileges

The picture on the left is from the children's room of the sale. It is neat. It is organized. Better, no one is standing in front of you reaching for the same book you are. This is how it looks between set-up and the opening of the sale. For those who want to know if we have many books, let me say that the books pictured are fiction, usually read by grade 4 or older. The mysteries and fantasy are actually on other shelves so you don't see any copies of Harry Potter.

And now for the book sale secret, volunteers get book buying privileges. In particular, the volunteers on Wednesday, the day before the sale starts, get to buy in limited quantities. These are the restrictions. The two biggest restrictions are volunteers must be amateurs and book lovers (sorry, book resellers need to shop at the sale) and items in the display cases can't be purchased ahead. We have a few other restrictions on quantity.

We try to be a friendly group of people. Come to the library and sign up at the information desk or email us. Come meet us.

Thomas Jefferson on the State of Virginia

The George Mason Friends get a variety of donations. One day a book arrived in a plastic bag. I don't think it was handed to anyone in particular. You can see from the photograph that this book has seen some wear. The leather on the spine has practically vanished. Still, it was given to the person dealing with old books.

When she opened the book, she was amazed to see that this book dates to 1794. It was published in Philadelphia and the author was Thomas Jefferson. The publishing history of Notes on the State of Virginia is that the book was first published in France. The next publications were from Philadelphia. On the title page, the book states it is the second American publication. The actual date is November 12, 1794.

This book is just one of many for sale at the Fall Book Sale. It is in one of the lobby display cases if you want to see it in person. If you want to see a list of items in the display cases, use the links off the George Mason Friends page.
The sale starts at 5 pm Thursday, October 22. I urge you to find a legal parking place. I would hate for a parking ticket to color your view of this great sale.
Some people come to this sale over multiple days. As can be expected, opening night is a bit crowded. On Friday and Saturday, there is room and time to browse. You can even talk to some of the Friends about books and other interests. Sunday gets a bit crowded, being the last day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Buzz Aldrin's book Reaching for the Moon

This year was the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing. For many people who were at least school age in 1969, this was a landmark event. Ask and you will hear detailed memories of where they were and what they were doing. An incredible number of people watched the TV live coverage. A few lucky people went to Florida to watch the liftoff on the 16th day of July in 1969. The names Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins still ring in their minds as incredible explorers.

Buzz Aldrin wrote a children's book Reaching For the Moon. It is illustrated with paintings by Wendell Minor. In our sale (starting 5 pm on Thursday the 22nd of October), we have a copy signed by both Buzz Aldrin and Wendell Minor. I am hoping a fan of the space program hears about this great opportunity and buys this great piece of memorabilia.

We have a list of some of our special books posted on the Internet courtesy of some nice people in IT for FCPL. Visit our George Mason Friends page on the FCPL site. At the bottom of the page are links to those lists of special books. Buzz Aldrin's book is included in the Children's books. The adult list is also very interesting.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tug McGraw, pitcher of the Philadelphia Phillies, signature

Back in 1980, the Philadelphia Phillies went to the World Series and won in six games. Their star pitcher was Tug McGraw. The following year, to show he was a man of many talents, he authored a children's book about baseball. The result was Lumpy, A Baseball Fable.

We have a copy he autographed. His signature is big and bold. I think this is a great piece of sports memorabilia for the fan who has everything.

We have this book listed on our Amazon storefront http://www.amazon.com/gp/shops/storefront/index.html?ie=UTF8&marketplaceID=ATVPDKIKX0DER&sellerID=A36TSWKKQGX8VY. It is not easy to find just our storefront but Amazon doesn't have many books named Lumpy written by Tug McGraw so you can search for it that way.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big Little Books

MacDonald's Happy Meals are just one in a long line of promotions that include something "free" with your purchase. Gas stations have been known to give glasses. A long time ago, there was a Duz detergent that included towels in the packaging. I have inherited some dishes that were premiums for going to the movies. I think these big little books are in the same class.

They are small, only about 3 x 3 but thick. The paper is brittle as you might expect from something about 75 years old. As you can see from the photograph, the covers have retained that brilliance. I am told that some of these are just interesting. I believe that the Tom Swift book is very interesting. Maybe you will recognise some others.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Collecting Cook Books

With the success of Julie and Julia at the movies this summer, more people are aware of the amazing Julia Child. Some may have viewed her as a childhood memory because of her many years of cooking on TV. What many people don't know is that the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961 was a watershed event. Before 1961, relatively few cook books were published each year. After 1961, the number of titles of cook books exploded to the tens of thousands.
D. Appleton-Century published Elsie de Wolfe's Recipes for Successful Dining in 1934. When I looked at it, I was taken by the idea of a book by a prominent social figure in the midst of the Depression. I googled her social name, Lady Mendl, to get more information. The Wikipedia article article was not the first in the list of results. The first was a Tea Room in New York City. If I had been around in the 1930's, I would have recognized her as a celebrity. She was actually better known as an interior designer. Read and learn.
If you search for this book on-line, be aware that it was reprinted after World War II. The copy pictured is the first printing from 1934.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gary Larson's The Complete Far Side

I remember when Gary Larson decided to take a break from creating his legendary cartoon The Far Side. Fortunately, those early cartoons have been reprinted in many forms. I am used to seeing them in paperbacks which, as you know, are just not designed to last. This collection is designed to last. The comics are published in two volumes called The Complete Far Side.
I only wish I could open this up and browse through some of my old favorites. I can't do that because this publication has never been opened. I will save that honor to its next owner.
If you are in the Washington, DC metropolitan area between October 22 and 25th, do come to our Fall book sale at George Mason Regional Library. The sale starts at 5pm on Thursday. We open at 5pm so you don't have to take off too much time from work and can still arrive on opening day.
The Complete Far Side has not been priced yet. Some of our other special books have. Links to lists of the special books can be found on the George Mason Friends page of the Fairfax County Public Library's website.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Korean Calligraphy

Asian art, in general, appeals to me. I really like the spareness of the illustrations. The book pictured is in both English and Korean so that more people can enjoy the messages as well as the art work.

One Hundred Years Of Korean Calligraphy (1848 - 1948) is a lovely work in a nice slipcase. The cover of the slipcase reproduces one of the art works inside.

Also shown is a page from the book. As you can dimly see, beside each image is a reproduction of the Korean calligraphy and an English translation. I have reproduced the meaning below.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Report of the Resettlement Administration, 1936 and the Fairfax County budget process

First I'll talk about another amazing book.

This book has a cover that looks like an old map of the United States showing products and places. It doesn't even give a title or author or publisher. Then you look inside.

This is a government publication from the depths of the Depression It is a report, the first report, by the Resettlement Administration. Looking closer, you find an inscription and then flipping pages, you realize the inscription is by the head of the Resettlement Administration. Historians will recognize his name as Rex Tugwell.

Hopefully, our current depression won't last as long. I am getting a little feeling for the pain that must have been felt in the past one.

Now talking about the current depression, Fairfax County has started its FY2010. The libraries have changed their hours as a result of budget cuts beginning in July of 2009. The staff has been cut as well. What may not be obvious is the cut to the budget for materials, for the magazines and periodicals and books and data bases and all that stuff. According to the library, back in FY 2001, the materials budget was about $6.33 per county resident. It is now $2.71 per resident.

The budget people are having to prepare their budgets for FY2011. It doesn't look good for Fairfax County. Again this year, community meetings are being held. The results are sent back to the Board of Supervisors. This is one way for the Supervisors to hear about the priorities of the residents. The Libraries have been asked to look at cutting another 18% from their budget. It hurts.

Plan to attend a community meeting. To find out more to to fairfaxcounty.gov/budget.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Edward Gorey's The Loathsome Couple

The Loathsome Couple by Edward Gorey

Edward Gorey fans will be used to his work but I have never actually read one before. This short work is as loathsome as its title. It is yet another example of the interesting things that pass our way.

The photograph is of the dust jacket so you can see that it is in fairly good condition. The book dates to 1977. There's no subsequent printing information so it is my guess that this is a first printing. This appears to be before Dodd, Mead uniformly adopted the now familiar number line for printings.

More about the Tasha Tudor book, I have now found out she was nominated for the Caldecott for Mother Goose and was recognized with a Honor Award in 1945. Caldecott's are awarded to books first published in the previous year.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tasha Tudor's Mother Goose

The George Mason Friends are a Friends of the Library group. We get some pretty interesting books in and some are so wonderful, I want to share the news of their arrival.

Do you know someone who collects Tasha Tudor illustrated books? I know a few. Here is a charming little copy of Mother Goose published in 1944 by Oxford. It still has its dust cover, a feat that is amazing for any children's book.
Even more amazing, the copyright page shows only the date. I've found references to fourth and fifth printings so I believe this is actually a first printing. How cool is that?
As a bonus, this book was awarded a Caldecott Honor medal in 1945.