ITHACA, N.Y. — The Friends of the Library Book Sale returns this weekend. The shelves are packed and ready for the thousands of shoppers that will come by to find new homes for all the donated books. Hundreds of thousands of books, games, CDs and other items will be sold over the course of the sale.

Every sale is a fresh start with a new stock of books and the culmination of a lot of work by many volunteers behind the scenes.

The Friends of the Library Book Sale is a longstanding local tradition, dating back to the early 1940s. The first sale was on the top floor of the library, Kathy Weinberg, book sale coordinator said.

“They raised enough money to buy a record player and some records for the library,” Weinberg said.

The book sale has grown and grown since then. Today, about 270,000 items are donated for each sale, and about 80 percent are sold, Weinberg said. The book sale has a permanent location at 509 Esty Street in Ithaca.

Below is a peek behind the scenes as volunteers get ready for the Friends of the Library Book Sale, which begins Saturday. Photos by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice. Story continues after slideshow.

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Donations are on pause until June 9, but when books do come in for sorting, they have an elaborate sorting procedure to inspect and categorize all of the books — from popular fiction to children’s books to cookbooks and about 70 other categories. Sometimes sorters will stumble on a rare find, like a Salvador Dali cookbook, and send it to the Collector’s Corner.

Throughout the years, a number of gems have come through the Collector’s Corner, where items can range from $10 to thousands.

Tucked into a biography of President Harry Truman, a volunteer found ID badges given by the Secret Service to the nurses who attended Truman during his final illness. Also taped in the book are written updates on the president’s condition that was read out to reporters. The book was sent to the Truman Presidential Library and Museum.

There are always unique finds in the Collector’s Corner. Prices can range from about $10 to thousands.
There are always unique finds in the Collector’s Corner. Prices can range from about $10 to thousands.

The shelves of the Collector’s Corner are full of stories and bits of history. Behind the glass of one case are photographs of a plane dedication to Princess Elizabeth, when she was about 18. Nearby is a copy of “On the Film” by Anne Rice featuring a picture of Rice and her dog, Mojo. It was printed by Rice for members of The Vampire LeStat Fan Club and signed in Sharpie.

Most of the items that come into the Collector’s Corner are donated anonymously, Janice Safran, book sale volunteer and senior editor of Carpelibros said. Volunteers need to have a sharp eye to catch items of value.

“A lot of times a box will come in, we all have to be alert to find books that have any value,” Weinberg said.

This year there are a lot of railroad-related books and items available in the Collector’s Corner, too. A full list of what is available in the Collector’s Corner is available here.

Books get sorted into about 70 categories as they come in, and volunteers also curate a few special collections like banned and challenged books and local book club favorites.

The money made from each sale, around $250,000, goes to maintenance fees, the Tompkins County Public Library and Finger Lakes Library System.

Proceeds also go toward not-for-profit organizations for reading-related materials, educational grants for residents pursuing library degrees. Grants have helped a range of community needs, such as helping the Advocacy Center purchase books on sexual abuse and domestic violence to stock an in-house library and give to clients and to various youth organizations.

The spring sale will take place from May 5 to 7, 12 to 14 and 19 to 22. There is also a special senior day and student night May 16. Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. the first day, and subsequent days from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Donations will be accepted again June 9. For more information, visit

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.