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Nonprofit agency is all booked up

January 22, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

candiceb@herald-mail.com

The employees of Booksavers in Hagerstown never quite know what they'll find when they open one of the hundreds of thousands of books the company receives.

Postcards, a school class photograph and author headshots are a few of the things found.

Then there was the time $800 was found in a device that looked like a book but that was actually hollow inside and designed to inconspicuously store valuables.

Leo Martin, manager of Booksavers, said the book-like item belonged to a man who had died. Employees tracked down a relative of the man, who was so pleased with the effort made by the company that she asked Booksavers to keep half of the cash.

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Booksavers picks up textbooks, old library books and other unwanted book collections and recycles them. Some are recycled by being resold.

Others are recycled in the more traditional sense - cut apart and bundled together before being sold to Chambersburg (Pa.) Waste Paper Co. Inc. and used for a variety of commercial purposes.

Proceeds from Booksavers, a nonprofit agency, support the Mennonite Central Committee, which helps with disaster relief efforts, worldwide education initiatives and other projects.

According to its Web site, the agency sends people, food and material goods to communities recovering from war and natural disasters; encourages and supports local churches and community groups in their efforts to provide food, health care, education, employment and social services; and helps people develop skills for creating peace in their families, neighborhoods, villages, towns and nations.

Booksavers first opened locally in the summer of 1996 in the basement of a former Spicher's Appliance location, but quickly outgrew the 1,500 square feet of space there. It then moved into a former fertilizer warehouse in Maugansville before moving to its current location about three years ago.

Goodbye 'Total Baseball Trivia'

Walking into Booksavers, at 13625 Pennsylvania Ave., can be deceiving. There's a retail space for customers in which used books are for sale, many priced at $1.50, and an adjacent room with textbooks and education resources popular among parents who home-school their children and teachers looking for additional classroom materials.

Then there's the cavernous warehouse, and behind that another huge warehouse.

The first warehouse area houses 100,000 to 150,000 textbooks, by Martin's estimate, as well as 29,000 books listed for sale on several Web sites.

The textbooks, many in new or nearly new condition, are entered into a computer database. Three big companies, in Chicago, Arkansas and Georgia, will buy the books if they are desired and resell them to schools.

The database is updated daily.

"What they weren't buying yesterday they might be buying today," said Booksavers office manager Ruby Denlinger.

Booksavers picks up unwanted textbooks from Washington County schools and schools around the region, at no cost.

In the warehouse space behind that area is the recycling area.

There books that likely cannot be resold, or are damaged, are cut apart.

On this particular day, countless paperback copies of "Total Baseball Trivia" were being recycled.

A machine removes the books' spines and the covers are then removed by hand and thrown into a container.

A machine then bales the remaining pages into large 1 ton bundles. Once 20 or so bundles are ready a tractor-trailer will pick them up and recycle them into more paper. That paper is used for a variety of purposes, Martin said.

Volunteers handle the recycling activities.

Volunteer effort

Sometimes books end up going home with a volunteer instead of being recycled.

"I gotta watch my library at home. It gets too big," said volunteer Paul Hoover.

A dairy farmer, Hoover volunteers after "drying out" his cows, which he is now doing. They will not need to be milked again until March.

He said he volunteers primarily to serve his church, but there are other benefits.

"I get the fellowship of these ornery characters," he said of the gregarious men around him. "I get all kinds of free advice (from them)."

A world map in a back office of Booksavers is peppered with pins that show the sites around the world from which books have been purchased online.

Along with most of Europe, every state in the U.S. and other countries, books have been sold to people in Laos, Russia and Malaysia.

Kim Martin - Leo Martin's daughter - helps oversee Internet sales. She said her favorite was a book shipped to a doctor in Seychelles, a tropical archipelago off the eastern coast of Africa.

No one site lists all the books Booksavers has for sale; instead they are listed on several sites, including those for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Alibis and Abebooks.

For more information go to www.booksavers.org.

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