Home & Garden Columns

The Best Guys in Town

By Phila Rogers, Special to the Planet
Friday September 22, 2006

At 10 a.m. every Friday, Mary Ann Broder opens the Friends of the Library Bookstore for business. She’s been doing that since 1998 when the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library first moved into their present location in the Sather Gate Mall housed in the public parking structure a half block below Telegraph Avenue, between Channing Way and Durant. 

By the time she, or one of the other volunteers, opens the door, people are already gathered outside. Some are looking through the cart of give-away books, while others are eager to get inside to see what new treasures have arrived or maybe what’s been marked down. Book dealers come regularly, looking for bargains. “We’re delighted when a pre-school class arrives, crocodile style with each child holding on to a cloth handle. Escorted by their teachers, they descend on the children’s corner, each selecting a book to buy,” says Broder.  

The generous space, located three blocks from the UC Campus, is a favorite with the university community and houses donated books from private collections, and even from publishers and other stores. Tables display new arrivals, bookcases hold foreign language books, collectibles, fiction, biographies, reference books, cook books, art books, history books, books on computers—you name it and you can probably find it there, in good condition and at amazingly reasonable prices.  

Aside from getting a good deal and maybe a book that isn’t easily available elsewhere, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that the proceeds go to fund library programs that might not get funded otherwise—programs like the children’s summer reading program, music programs including the wonderful annual live jazz series, and such life-changing opportunities as the adult literacy programs. 

The Friends are able to respond to about $100,000 worth of library requests each year because the books are donated and sold in stores by volunteers. In addition to the Sather Gate Store near Telegraph Avenue, the Friends operate a second store in an elegant little space created at the time of the Central Library’s renovation in 2002. Located on the main floor near the elevators, the Central Library Store has a full range of books, but the emphasis is on fiction and children’s books, most of which are in ‘mint condition,’ lightly touched by small hands. 

The store is popular with library patrons and especially with parents and their kids who sometimes discover the store on their way up to the Children’s Room on the fourth floor. With books averaging $2 each, kids often assemble an impressive stack of books—which won’t have to be returned in three weeks. Teachers are also regular customers because in this era of tight budgets they often have to make personal purchases to enrich their classrooms (yes, the Friends give teachers a discount). 

Upstairs, in the Friend’s workroom, volunteers gather each Monday to sort and price books. Sayre Van Young, recently retired after 36 years as a reference librarian with the Berkeley Public Library, works alongside veteran volunteers like Mary Anne Broder, Rose Watada, Gaby Morris, and Joan Haefele. Once the books are ready, volunteers stock the two stores, though at the Sather Gate Store sorting and pricing are an ongoing activity with books donated directly to that location.  

Though operating two stores is recent, the Friends have been around since the mid-1950s when, in the style of the times, they hosted elegant teas for the library staff. The Friends began selling books outside the Central Library at an annual—and very popular—three-day book sale. Friends volunteers remember how book dealers often would line up along the second-level of the old Hink’s parking lot with binoculars in hopes of scoping out titles that they would grab up when the sale began. 

Though it’s been eight years since the last outdoor sale, people still call and ask about the date of next sale. But the volunteers don’t miss working in the musty, dim basement of the old library where books were kept and sorted. And now books are available to prospective buyers year-round. 

The Friends welcome book donations at both locations. If you have lots of books or need help, a volunteer can arrange to pick-up your donations. (Call the Sather Gate Store at 841-5604). Books need to be in good condition, and encyclopedias should be recent. And don’t forget your old maps, audiotape, CDs, videos and DVDs as they are always in demand. 

If volunteering at one of the two stores for two or three hours a week sounds interesting, come in and talk to the volunteers. You will meet interesting people on both sides of the counter. And if book buying or browsing is your passion, check out the Friends’ book stores. And you can justify your acquisitions by knowing you are supporting one of the community’s most beloved and venerable institutions—the Berkeley Public Library. 


Photograph by Lynn Brown: Mary Ann Broder and Miles Karpilow talk books at the Sather Gate store.