Book Sale Tips

Book sales have changed substantially in the last five years! If you live in an area where sales are still relatively tame, you might want to read the first edition (1999) of this document too! It's substantially different from the article that follows.


What homeschooler who loves out-of-print books can resist a LIBRARY SALE? I attended my first library book sale in the 1970's and have been taking my children to sales with me since 1996. We don't go to many sales these days, but we are willing to share our insiders' secrets!


God has promised to bless His People and meet all of their needs. One way or another, He will do this so I always ask the Lord to open my eyes to what I should purchase and close my eyes to what someone else needs more.

After a sale, we thank the Lord for his blessing, too! Last weekend, it was our pleasure to attend a library sale after a local music store had gone out of business and donated their full inventory to the library! After months of looking for inexpensive piano music for my daughters, I was delighted to find about $150 worth of brand new piano books and music, along with a few other instructional books, for $11.75. What a gift from God to my children!

(Now we're praying for simple hymn arrangements--and watching to see how God will provide!)


The Bible commands us, "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality."

Yes, sales are increasingly competitive and competition is part of the game--but it may not be best to exert the utmost effort to bring the largest possible number of books home! :-)

For booksellers especially, it may be both wise and kind to keep our duty to be "not slothful in business" in balance with the other duties listed in the above passage.

Remember that for many local families, these sales are their only source of books. Picking the sales clean in the first twenty minutes in order to sell the books online for as little as $2-3 each means a low hourly wage for a bookseller in exchange for a very cluttered office or basement at home and lots of disappointed children in the families that attend the sales with us and after us.

I generally do reserve very valuable books to supplement my family's income, but when I find a $3-5 book that I know is wonderful and I know that I don't need it for our library, I often look for another family at the sale to share it with.

This can be so much fun--a blessing for that family and a blessing for us, too! We've met many delightful people this way!

Want to go home happy? Share!


The best first step is to sign up for BookSaleFinder's e-mail notification list. Look for the link at BookSaleFinder.

Next, expand on the information that BookSaleFinder provides by building a more complete list of nearby libraries and contacting them directly for sale dates and times.

  1. Visit Mapquest.
  2. Click on the "Business Category" tab.
  3. Enter "library" as the business category with your address and click on "Search."
  4. Click on the "Libraries" link that appears.
  5. The resulting list can be used as it appears or expanded to a 50 mile radius.

Call your chosen libraries at the beginning of the year to get the date and time of each sale. Be sure to ask if the library has early admission for "Friends of the Library." If they do, it is nearly always worth $5 or $10 to join and browse the books early. (If possible, have your "Friends of the Library" membership finalized before the sale date.)

Other sources for sale information are school and public librarians, teachers, other homeschooling families, and (rarely) booksellers.


Five years ago, ten or twenty minutes early was plenty. In most locations, this is no longer the case. Lines begin to form one to three hours ahead of many sales. (I attended one sale where the line had begun to form 5 days before the sale opened!)

The very best books do typically disappear within the first 20-30 minutes, but I still sometimes go to sales on the second day and find treasures left by other shoppers.

Consider being the ultimate early bird! Some Friends of the Library groups invite members to come and help set up the sales. In exchange for this assistance, helpers may be invited to shop as they work to set up the sale. In some locations working shoppers are limited in the number of books they can purchase per hour worked; in other cases, free shopping is encouraged. (I've never done this, but I have friends who've been blessed by these efforts.)


I take my older children with me to the sales. Together, they sometimes spot nearly as many great books as I do and by this means have contributed to both our library and our income.

I pay my daughters 10% of any book or set that sells for over $20. This motivates them to look carefully and is a good lesson in economics as well!


I've heard reports of people being injured at book sales due to the greed of some shoppers. One bookseller told me that he observed a woman taken from the sale with what seemed to be a fractured knee after two women turned over a book sale table in a tussle over a box of books.

As you wait for the sale, take a look at the crowd you're with. Is this a friendly and apparently safe group--or not?

If you have children with you, make a decision about their relative safety. I often take at least some of my children with me to book sales--but I sometimes send younger children to the children's department with my eldest daughter when I perceive that they will not be safe in the book sale.

I have also sometimes left sales because of the manners of some shoppers or unsafe crowding in the sale room.


We see books thrown on the floor and left in almost unbelievable disarray these days. If I'm still at a sale after the initial furor has died down, I will sometimes ask my children to pick up after the shoppers.

This is a blessing to my children, to the next shoppers, and to the often elderly sale workers who are left with such a mess!


I always head first for the children's section, but I have found wonderful children's books in the history, art, geography, music, military, and religion sections as well.

Some libraries set aside larger sets--My Book House, Picturesque Tales of Progress, Childcraft--in a separate area.

If you have a few people looking, it's helpful to "divide and conquer." You might have one person look for juvenile chapter books, one look for picture books after a quick look at sets, and so on.


Don't be disappointed. Consider having one child watch your finds in a corner while you look for books. (In our home, this job qualifies as paid employment!) At the least, cover or label the books that you intend to purchase.


Occasionally a person will entirely clear a section of books by the hundreds to "reserve" them from all other shoppers and then go through them discarding most and leaving them in a disorderly heap on the floor.

I don't suggest that behavior by any means, but I do think it's prudent and reasonable to look over one's intended purchases--if the sale's format permits--and weed out any that are musty, badly damaged inside, or unsuitable for purchase for any other reason.

Return unwanted books quickly to their proper places. Do this early in the sale to maximize the library's profit. Don't ask someone else to pick up after you!


Sales have changed tremendously over the last several years. Attendance is now higher than ever with many more shoppers looking for the best and most collectible children's literature. (Sadly, in some locations children are no longer permitted access to the children's literature until the adults have had their fill.)

Knowing the best books by sight is a great advantage. I have taken my children to the library and shown them copies of books that I'd like them to find! They pay attention and often do find the books I've shown them!

Happy Hunting!