The Loudoun Library Foundation’s massive book sale has been one of the county’s most popular annual events for decades. Parents, kids and individuals line up outside Smart’s Mill Middle School each June to fill boxes and bags with books from their favorite authors or genres.
The proceeds from those $1 and $2 sales help fund library programs all year round. Last year’s event raised almost $50,000.
But as the sale enters its 29th year, the Loudoun Library Foundation finds itself in dire need of a home to continue its work.
For the past two years, the foundation used vacant space in the Village at Leesburg to store and sort thousands of books donated by the public each year. That space has been leased and the books have been moved to storage units.
According to Loudoun Library Foundation President Drew Zenowich, unless a new location can be found by early March the book sale may not go forward this year.
Ideally, the foundation needs a long-term relationship and between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet to allow it to collect books year-round, but, for now, a space of 3,500 square feet for sorting is needed, Zenowich said. The sale cannot be held this year unless the foundation can find space from March to July.
Since its inception, the foundation has donated more than $760,000 to the Loudoun Public Library and to Town of Leesburg’s Thomas Balch Library, contributions that have allowed significant programming enhancements at both institutions.
One program is Loudoun library’s popular Summer Reading Program, which served 180,000 participants last year. Other programs supported by the foundation include 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, Spanish-language story times, book clubs for kids, teen and adult writing workshops and contests, and the Modern Adult Programs. The LLF also helped fund artist Joan Gardiner’s ceramic tile wall at Rust Library. Funding for Balch helps with salary and supplies for continuing work on a family collection that dates to the 1700s.
Many people know of the book sale, but not everyone is aware it is the result of tireless work by volunteers throughout the year who collect and sort the books and manage the sale.
The foundation was created almost 30 years ago by a group of public-spirited individuals, initially to raise funds for renovations to the then-county owned Balch Library. The first sale was held on the library’s front lawn in 1988.
After the Balch Library was closed by the county when Rust Library was built (the Town of Leesburg then took over Balch as genealogy research center), the foundation turned its attention to supporting programs for the Loudoun Public Library.
Vice President Jean Zenowich has been going to the sale for years. “It’s the highlight of my year,” she said, laughing as she recalled how she roped in her husband as a volunteer.
“For my birthday present, I asked him to help sort books. He liked it and was hooked,” she said.
Zenowich runs the collections, sorting and sale arrangements, using the services of about 25 people throughout the year. The sale itself takes between 100 and 120 volunteers.
Despite the growth of e-books, the traditional paper versions remain popular, according to Zenowich, noting 80,000 volumes sold during the 2015 sale.
Foundation Treasurer Wynne Saffer is a book collector. He and Thomas Balch Librarian Mary Fishback are two of the longest serving foundation members. Fishback recruited Saffer to help with the sale.
Despite the inroads of online book sales, with an inventory of 100,000 books to sell, “you can’t beat the prices,” Saffer said—$1 for paperbacks and $2 for hardbacks.
Fishback runs the special books section, in a range of categories costing from $2 to $50. She culls some of the best books and takes them to book auction house Quinn and Waverley.
“They do a wonderful job selling them for us,” she said, recalling one book that had no obvious clues as to its provenance.
“It was a book of beautiful chicken prints. They did the research and it turned out to have been published in 1933 in Massachusetts for the National Poulterers’ Association,” she said. Only 10 copies were printed. The LLF copy fetched $2,000.
Books that don’t sell are given to a recycler, who sells what’s possible, while the residue is shredded for insulation.
“We provide a useful outlet for people needing to get rid of books and we save them from the landfill. I hate throwing books away,” Saffer said.
The prospect of not being able to hold this year’s sale dismays Loudoun Public Library Chang Liu and Program Division Manager Linda Holtslander.
“The annual funding has enhanced the LPL’s vision of what it can achieve in supplemental programming,” Liu said, noting the foundation funding provides resources that help all ages.
Holtslander cited the fun of the summer reading enhancement that includes entertainers, magicians and comedians. “You have a room full of kids and parents sprawled all over the floor,” she said. “[The foundation’s] support is the best bang for the buck, and the book sale is the best organized on the East Coast—it’s a production.”
Through the summer programs, participants are given books to keep—for some, it’s the first book they can call their own.
Without the LLF support, “we would never have been able to provide such experiences and enrichment for our community,” Holtslander said.
Thomas Balch Library Director Alexandra Gressitt is no less grateful than her public library counterparts for the LLF support.
“They give us grants to process the Charles Johnston Family collection,” Gressitt said the money allows the library to supplement staff salaries and buy supplies.
The loss of “this outstanding volunteer organization to the community would be tragic,” Gressitt said.
Anyone with space available, either in the short term to enable the LLF to run this year’s sale, or on a longer-term basis, is asked to contact LLFvolunteers@gmail.com or call 703-779-2252.