In our Charity Centre, we also have a book corner. We have have sections for English and French books, and for books for children and teenagers. In August, I have assumed the responsibility for the English books. De facto, I also try to keep the French section somewhat organised, as we currently don’t have someone taking the lead there. I have good help by Diane, who is a native French speaker, and who loves and really knows books, but she can only be there for short periods.
As any librarian or book shop owner — think of an old-fashioned set-up, where people actually have access to the shelves for browsing — could tell you, book collections require continuous maintenance. There are the daily menial chores – clients may put books back on the shelves basically anywhere, or upside down, and so on.
Then, books that haven’t been sold for a long time need to be replaced by new arrivals, or from storage. Since we sell books that are being donated to us, new arrivals need to be sorted, and priced. Sorting involves, obviously, language, then category, and quality. By quality I mean their physical condition, not contents. Some of the incoming books are in pretty bad shape, and we donate them further on for free.
The book corner had not received all that maintenance work for some time, mostly due to the lack of volunteers. During the lockdowns, and also thereafter when schools were still closed, or on a reduced attendance schedule — and some still are —, many volunteers had to stay home and look after the kids. Or expats have left the country for good. We once had twenty or so volunteers for all the work and the goods we sell at the centre, now we’re down to four or five.
Nothing anybody could do about all that, alas. Consequently, the organisation was, shall we say, not so good. I have since gone through all the English section, weeding out old stuff, putting books back onto the shelves according to their category, and so on. Slowly things get into order again, and it makes me smile to look at “my” shelves. I have also defined new categories, or changed the existing ones slightly to better fit our book collection. I think. We’ll see.
At the Source
I love books. The Kindle is practical, also for purchasing specific titles, for example the non-fiction textbooks I am interested in. But for me, reading a real book is a pleasure. Especially with nice typography, and good quality paper. Since I am at the source now, I have purchased and read numerous novels and non-fiction titles in the past weeks. Ten? Twelve? I have lost count, and I cannot go back and count the read ones, as I donate them back when I am through, so others get a shot, too. Many of our clients do that as well, so our book corner is actually more like a third, fourth, or more hand book shop.
Avoiding the Tipping Point
I personally like neatly looking book shelves, and by extension I assume our clients do as well. I mean they must be book buffs, too, else they would not be in there in the first place. So each morning I go through the shelves, and just clean up the looks to get started. Not pedantically, but still, have the spines somewhat lined up, and all that. Checking for misplaced books. But I think if the books present themselves neatly, the clients are also better motivated to keep some basic order. Well, at least most of them. Messy book shelves get a lot messier very quickly, and at some tipping point the whole just becomes unmaintainable. Entropy builds up in no time on book shelves. See above. Broken windows theory, for what it’s worth.
Between Calm to Frenzy
Some days are easy, but at times we get a ton of new donations in a short time, and I try to keep abreast of chaos, not least as we don’t have a lot of working and storage space for books. So a quick triage is key, French for Diane, English for me, bad quality to give away. Sometimes it’s simply easier to put all boxes with newly donated books into my car, and then do the sorting and pricing at home on my verandah. There I have space, and only need to pay attention that Leah, my doggie, does not throw over the piles with her enthusiastically wagging tail.
Don’t skimp on labelling the boxes! If what box contains what seems clear on Monday, it isn’t anymore on Wednesday, when I return. (Our opening days are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Probably I also just get old. I mean I usually use my reading glasses to work, which should tell you something.
It’s satisfying to watch that the new organisation is being appreciated by many clients. Sometimes I joke with Rose and say it was a bad day, as I didn’t get any compliments. Compliments are nice and encouraging, especially in the midst of sweatily schlepping heavy boxes of books. Luckily, we have air conditioning in there, which is a Good Thing™ with summer approaching. And it might be a hot summer. It’s only the beginning of November, but on sunny days it feels like January already.