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Volunteer's work crucial to Sewickley library success

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Public Library volunteer Mary Walker looks over a 'Star Wars' book inside the room where she organizes books for the library's book sales on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. Walker said the book retails new for $42 on Amazon, but will be sold at the library for $5.50. She said she frequently checks prices on Amazon of books that come in through donations that she thinks may be worth more.

Mary Walker knows a good book when she sees one. And she's been around quite a few.

While the 71-year-old lifelong Sewickley resident said she enjoys reading, her ability to organize thousands of books in an effort to raise much-needed money for the Sewickley Public Library is important, Director Carolyn Toth said.

“If Mary were not here to sort donated books and items for us, I can't imagine what we would do,” Toth said, adding the library receives new donations nearly daily. “They'd be shipped upstairs and piled up. We need someone to be able to touch those books to go through them.”

For about a decade, Walker has organized many of the used book sales held at the Thorn Street library, including one scheduled Friday through Sunday.

She volunteers most weekdays, sorting books and other items throughout the year preparing for sales.

More than 2,000 books are organized and distributed among tables throughout the library for the used book sales. Even more are stowed away to be sorted.

The work of Walker, who organizes the book sales hosted by the Friends of the Sewickley Public Library — a nonprofit fundraising arm of the library — is crucial to continue and add programs and services the center's budget can't afford, Toth said.

Over the years, the Friends group has purchased big-ticket items such as kitchen appliances for the community room and digital television screens, regularly adding to the library's books, movies and video-gaming collection.

Since 2009, more than $50,000 has been raised through book sales, according to library data. Book sales are just one of the ways the Friends group raises money for the library.

The organization offers an annual donation of about $56,000 to add to the general circulation collection, Toth said. The group provides money for summer reading programs, Battle of the Books, putting the Sewickley Herald on microfilm and to a “wish list” — things the library could use, but can't afford in a general operating budget — such as the digital televisions that are expected this year.

“We could not do some of the programming we do without that extra ‘wish list' money or even provide some of the services we do,” Toth said.

Prices for books and media typically range from $1 to $3. On Sunday, a clearance sale offers $5 for a bag full of items.

Increasing prices has been discussed, but Walker said prices offered are affordable. Though, Walker said, when rare finds cross her path, she price checks them on Amazon. And if a book could be sold for higher, she notes the Amazon asking price on a display tag, but still sells lower.

Used book sales are held three times a year — February, June and September.

A decision to offer used book sale tables throughout the year has been paying off, Walker said.

In November and December, tables with books, wreaths and other items brought in more than $5,000 for the Friends group, she and Toth said.

They're not sure how many people visit the used book sales, but Walker said a crowd — made up of mostly collectors and dealers — greets her at the start of the first day of the sale.

For Walker, lending a hand to the book sale is part of her effort to give back to a community institution she has grown with.

“I don't have grandkids, kids (or) siblings,” she said. “I have the library. So mentally, it's been really good for me.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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