By Justin Vellucci
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
In the bowels of Edgewood’s C.C. Mellor Library in late February, Rebecca Taksel squeezed between boxes of donated books stacked from floor to ceiling, combing through the tomes before the library’s annual book sale March 6.
“We have books from the 1830s, the 1840s, from a theological library, and they are some fine religious books,” said Taksel, who’s volunteered for Edgewood’s biggest event since 2001. “You never know what you’re going to find. People interested in special books should come out. We have people who are experts in various fields come – and each year they find something.”
Taksel isn’t exaggerating. Last year, the library raised some $10,000 by selling somewhere between 15,000 and 17,000 books at the sale, all of it in 50-cent and one-dollar increments. They expect to hit those numbers, and maybe even exceed them, this year.
“Honestly, it’s all about what’s been donated,” library director Erin Pierce said. “We have books, we have movies, we have CDs. In some years, we’ve even had sheet music. Who shouldn’t come to this event?”
The sale, a feast for bibliophiles, runs March 6 through March 10 at the stately library on Pennwood Avenue, near the Race Street municipal building and the decommissioned Edgewood train station. Books and DVDs cost $2, CDs and mass-market paper-backs will run $1, and all children’s books are 50 cents, Pierce said.
On Friday, March 6, patrons can pay $25 for a special preview event, complete with food and (for those over 21) alcohol. On Monday, March 9 and Tuesday, March 10, visitors can fill a shopping bag with items for just $6. One year, Pierce joked, a library patron brought a human-sized, construction-style bag to fill for that price.
“When you’re trying to move 17,000 books in four days, you develop very liberal policies,” she laughed.
While the event is an obvious draw for those who love to read, Pierce said many people think even bigger. The parent-teacher group at Edgewood Primary School stocks up for its pupils. Others buy books for free libraries in the less affluent communities that dot the Monongahela River. Some book sale items, mainly dictionaries, go to the Allegheny County Jail, Downtown.
The sale is C.C. Mellor’s largest fundraiser of the year by a mile; its proceeds help offset the library’s roughly $380,000 budget and go directly to operations, Pierce said.
It’s also a volunteering juggernaut. About 25 to 30 volunteers these days prepare for and staff the event, many giving an hour or two here and there throughout the year. Some are a different story. One retired man, who wishes to remain somewhat anonymous, has a background in facilities management and labors 60 to 80 hours each month sorting and properly storing the sale’s donated wares.
“It is so amazing, this intricate system of sorting the books all year long,” Taksel said.
Taksel says memories of past sales – nobody can pinpoint when they started, except to say they’ve been around more than a generation – stick with her. She remembers one year when a young student, who was majoring in literature, seemed overwhelmed by the task of narrowing down her selections.
“She had to take her books out and fan them across the floor in piles,” Taksel said. “She was here for the bag sale so, of course, she bought them all. I had shortness of breath, I was so excited for her.”
That excitement also radiates from Pierce, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s library and information science program, who worked for Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh and Community College of Allegheny College (CCAC) before coming to Edgewood as a children’s librarian about seven years ago. She became director in March 2017.
“It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Pierce said, “but it’s also a wonderful way for a community to come together.”