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American Association of University Women celebrates 50 years of selling books

April 14, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Volunteers from left, Carol Brashears, Susan Latimer and Jeanne Stoner unpack books Monday for the American Association of University Women Used Book Sale that opens Thursday at Arc of Washington County. This is the 50th anniversary of the fundraising sale.
Kevin G. GIlbert /

Fifty years ago, libraries were beginning to shift from stuffy, dark rooms lined with shelves of books to participatory sites of culture and learning.

The image of studiousness and solitude was being replaced by stimulation and conversation.

There were expanding learning spaces, opportunities for creating and sharing original works and ideas, youth programs and a sense of community connectedness.

In Hagerstown, the Washington County Free Library was no exception to the transition.

The year was 1963, and the library had plans for a new home. It had outgrown the sleepy stillness of its location on Summit Avenue and would move forward to a bigger, brighter and more modern downtown structure — helping people rethink the idea of a library.

But funds were needed, recalled Jeanne Stoner. And the Hagerstown Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) decided to help.

Stoner said members began discussing fundraising possibilities and ultimately came up with, what they considered, the perfect choice to support a library — the sale of unwanted books.

"The thinking was that almost everyone had books that they no longer needed," said Stoner. "So why not collect them, price them, organize them and sell them?"

That year, the AAUW Used Book Sale was born.

Over the next decades, it would become a Washington County tradition — generated by the donations of thousands of books and resulting in a major fundraising effort for the Washington County Free Library, a scholarship program for local college-bound students and AAUW fellowships.

Stoner, who serves as the book sale chairwoman, estimates that, since its inception, the event has raised almost a million dollars.

This year marks 50 years of the book sale, a milestone that was celebrated on March 9 at the AAUW's Founders Day Luncheon. Stoner said the get-together included a lot of reminiscing, as well as a DVD presentation and old posters.

It was a walk down memory lane, a look at the many changes the book sale has gone through — from the volume of books sold to its different locations. But one thing has remained a constant:  it always draws a crowd.

This year's book sale will be Thursday, April 18, through Saturday, April 20 at The Arc of Washington County on Florida Avenue in Hagerstown and will include several special events. At 1 p.m. on Thursday, a live auction of special finds and old and rare books will be held. On Friday, April 19, about 30 area authors have been invited to autograph, display and sell their books; and Saturday is an opportunity to buy books at half-price, with Bag Day starting at noon. For more details, see the box at right.

In addition to hardback and paperback books that range from mystery and music to horror and humor, the sale includes CDs, DVDs and books on tape.

Stoner said the first sale was very low key, compared to today's sale. 

"Members Joanne McCoy Jones, Mary Broadwater and others telephoned branch members, encouraging them to ask friends and neighbors to donate their unwanted books for a sale," Stoner recalled. "Then, they literally went around in their cars collecting them and sorted and priced them in their homes."

Stoner said the group got a vacant building in downtown Hagerstown to hold the sale, which netted about $1,500 for the library.

The Washington County Free Library eventually provided a basement workroom where the members, who were nicknamed moles, could collect, weed, sort, price and box books, Stoner noted. 

"In the 1970s, it really took off," she said. "Members began placing containers for used books in prime locations, more books were collected and sales increased.

"It became a recycling event," Stoner said. "People would give books, buy books and then give them back. That's still the case today."

The book sale has been held at many locations, Stoner said, from downtown storefronts to the Hagerstown Fairgrounds and the Washington County Agricultural Education Center near Sharpsburg.

"The Fairgrounds was a wonderful location," she said. "But when it underwent renovations, we lost our site. So, we moved it to the Ag Center. And because we had so many books — honestly, about 50,000 — we could really display them in an improved and attractive manner."

During this time, Stoner said Bowman Trucking provided two large trailers for free to store boxes of books.

"Then, before the sale, Bowman would take the trailers to the Ag Center and inmates from MCTC (Maryland Correctional Training Center) would help us carry the books inside," she said. "It has often been quite a production. I don't think people realize just how much work is involved in this one sale."

When library renovations began, "we lost our room," Stoner said. "But we've been very lucky to find the Arc, which bought the former Stationary House next door and has been renovating the building, including a room for us."

Stoner said in the past, the chapter attempted to hold two sales a year — spring and fall.

"But it was a lot of work, we became burned out and it also meant we were doubling our expenses with advertising, etc. So, we went back to the single sale," she said.

Throughout the years, the sale has received tremendous community support, both in donations and attendance.

"But we don't get the number of books that we did at one time," she said, attributing the decrease in new technology.

"Kindle and other e-readers, as well as the Internet, have grown in popularity," she said. "But there are still people who enjoy reading the old-fashioned way — with a book in their hands."

Stoner said the book sale also has been affected by a dwindling number of AAUW members.

"We have a core of about a dozen members who have taken charge of the event," she said, "women like Louise Abdullah and Dottie Cochran. But it still involves a lot of effort and everyone is getting older. We could really use some new blood and some creative ideas."

When the Hagerstown Chapter of AAUW began, Stoner said, "it was quite a distinction to be a member and in the 1970s and we had a membership that numbered in the 200s. That's not the case today. We pushed for women to get their degrees, we pushed for equal pay and working outside of the home. But because so many women work at full-time jobs, I don't think they join as many groups today. And that has hurt us with our membership."


If you go ...

What: Used Book Sale, sponsored by the Hagerstown Branch of the American Association of University Women

When: Thursday, April 18, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., with special finds and old and rare books will be auctioned at 1 p.m.; Friday, April 19, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., local authors will display, sell and autograph their books; and Saturday, April 20, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., books will be sold at half-price from 9 a.m. to noon; "bag day," when books can be purchased for $5 per bag, will be from noon to 3 p.m.

Where: Arc of Washington County, 1000 Florida Ave., Hagerstown

Cost:  Free Contact: Call 301-733-2007.

Proceeds will provide scholarships for local students and to the Washington County Free Library for educational programs.

More: Anyone interested in learning more about AAUW and/or becoming a member, can contact Susan Latimer, membership chairwoman, at AAUW, P.O. Box 1824, Hagerstown, Md. 21742.

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