Checked Out

Members of the Friends Foundation donated their lives to the library. Those days are over.

Through a partnership with the firm bLogistics, Amazon receives a 15 percent commission on each book sold, while bLogistics -- which stores the books in a Boulder warehouse -- and the library each receive 42.5 percent of the revenues. Last year the library made $37,265 from the deal over ten months, and the DPL is projecting that it will earn $50,000 this year. The Friends raised $100,000 through two used-book sales last year.

"The partnership enables the library to sell de-accessioned and donated books from its collection through Amazon, with significantly reduced overhead expenditures and a broader audience of buyers due to the reach of the World Wide Web," Jackson says.

Fans of old books are especially troubled by the new arrangement, because bLogistics only sells books that have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), a ten digit ID that has been assigned to almost all books published in the last thirty years. They fear the old books will all wind up in the trash.

 
Mark Manger
 
 
Mark Manger
 

"Older, rarer books, what happens to them?" asks Linda Lebsack, who sells used books with an emphasis on Colorado history at her small shop on Broadway. "Do they throw them away or sell them out the back door? Every year I go to the sale and see a book by some old geezer who lived in a small Colorado town and wrote his memoirs. You'll see dozens of books like that go through the sale. I've bought signed editions of poets from the 1920s. I sold a library discard the other day for $45."

And even though Jackson says those books will be sold at the used-book sale in October or at the annual rare-books auction in January, the Friends volunteers have seen what really happens to many of the volumes. While preparing for what would be their last summer extravaganza, they heard rumors that they no longer had full access to the stock because much of the year's discards were simply being tossed in the dumpster.

So Monley and the volunteers went down to the library's dock to investigate. What they found appalled them: box after box of books heading to the dump.

"We thought it was a mistake and went down and took them out of the trash," Monley says. "They went on throwing the books away, even though they were good books for the book sale. We always sold them; they were $18 or $19 books. They were throwing away art books -- they sell beautifully; some were in perfect shape inside. We'd sell them for $7 or $8, and they'd go in minutes."

"Those of us who sort the books see what's coming through and are appalled by it," Silverman adds. "They were saying they needed to raise money for Spanish-language materials, and we would be seeing Spanish materials for children in mint condition being discarded. We were getting stuff that had never been opened, and it was being discarded."

Especially disturbing to the sorters were the number of children's books that were thrown away. Several of the volunteers approached the library administration to see if they could get the books -- paid for by Denver taxpayers -- donated to Denver schools, which have struggled for years to fill their libraries. But the answer was no.

"Denver's school libraries are hurting," Julie Benson says. "One day we had a young-fathers' group sorting with us, teenage kids, and they couldn't believe the books that were being thrown away. One told me, 'I'm trying to write a report on the Civil War, and we don't have any books about it at school.'"

But Benson's not sticking around to witness the next DPL outrage. She's now volunteering at the Arapahoe County library, helping to arrange book sales and other fundraising activities.

She has found a very different atmosphere there than at the DPL. "They've been really great," Benson says. "There's no competition between the volunteers and staff. They're glad to have us; they like their volunteers, and we feel welcome."

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