It’s a familiar book-lovers’ tradition that began modestly more than three decades ago in a small shopping center in Old Metairie.
From that location in 1987, in what is now the Old Metairie Village Shopping Center, three more locations followed until the Friends of the Jefferson Public Library found a long-term home for its semiannual Big Book Sale in the Pontchartrain Center along Kenner’s lakefront.
Lisa Conescu, a member of the Friends since 1984, serves on its board of directors and has been president, vice president and book sale chairwoman.
“The early sales were a lot of fun and way simpler than our sales are today,” she said. “We only had the library’s surplus books (to sell) and had them delivered to the sale in huge boxes. Some were unloaded onto tables while some were left in boxes with customers actually climbing in the boxes.”
Over time, Friends members became more discerning booksellers. “Several of us went to book sales or used book stores to learn how others priced their books. We got smarter and wiser and made more and more money by learning how to research and price books,” she said. “And we began identifying valuable books and assembled a collection of reference books on rare and collectible books.”
In 1998, the Friends opened a store inside the East Bank Regional Library, 4747 W. Napoleon Ave., Metairie. Today, it’s open weekdays from 1 pm to 4 pm, selling postcards, stationary, small gifts, records and gently used books.
Diane Schleifstein, president of the Friends since 2018, helps manage internet sales, the online store and weekly volunteers at the Friends store.
“Joan Demers (a member of the Friends) started the online sales in late 2007 after noticing buyers at the book sales were checking values of books with their handheld devices,” Schleifstein said. “Based on the criteria Joan developed, a group of ladies list books on Amazon for sale and then pack and mail the books.
“We sold books via Amazon during the last two years when the Big Book Sales were canceled (due to the pandemic) and were able to give the library $50,000 in December from funds raised from Amazon sales and the Friends store.”
Judy Zawislak, a volunteer with Friends since 1993, has co-chaired the Big Book Sale for 20 years.
“The biggest impact the pandemic had on Friends was that we weren’t able to give the library as much money as we had in previous years,” Zawislak said. “On the other hand, the lockdown provided the opportunity for people to look at their personal book collections and donate many books of their books to us once we reopened.”
Zawislak said the upcoming sale will feature several special items including a 1842 Bible; 14 volumes of Agatha Christie’s mystery collection; a 2008 Fair Grounds poster signed and numbered by artist Tuna Seither; a rare 1987 oversized poster of The Beatles; a DVD set of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”; and a 1955 sign and numbered lithograph of the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival by George Febres.
Peg Phelps, a member of Friends since 1996 and the group’s treasurer, said more than $2.5 million has been raised since its inception.
“I think our biggest sale was in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina,” Zawislak added. “So many people had lost book collections and were eager to replace them when we held our sales. It was a huge turnout of shoppers and we grossed over $80,000.”
Proceeds from the sales go to support the library system by purchasing needed items not covered by the library’s budget. Patricia Cox, a member since 1987, said where the donations go “changes from year to year, and it’s usually whatever is needed above what is in the library’s budget.”
“We have purchased ‘smart tables’ for the children’s section of the branches.” Cox said. “We also replace furniture and shelving when branch libraries are remodeled. And we fund the library’s annual summer reading program.”
Phelps said the group doesn’t really know what to expect from the upcoming book comes out. A lot of people are calling and asking about the next sale, “so we think there is a lot of pent-up demand out there.”
For more information about the sale or the Friends, go to the website www.friendsofjeffersonlibrary.org or call (504) 455-2665.
Big Book Sale
QUE: The semiannual sale by the Friends of the Jefferson Parish Public Library, including thousands of books, DVDs, CDs, audio books, records and puzzles.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 18-19; noon to 5 pm March 20
WHERE: The Pontchartrain Center, 4545 Williams Blvd., Kenner.