Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's Not the Getting, It's the Giving

In the ultimate holiday giveaway, the bookstore is donating about 20,000 books to teachers in Boulder this weekend. Most of these books are Penguin paperbacks that we bought in pallets at the Chicago International Remainder & Overstock Book Exposition last month from Book$mart, a remainder wholesaler located in Alabama. The last time I talked to our sales guy there, he told me in a fairly thick southern drawl that we could call anytime we wanted another 20,000 books. "We've got pallets as far as the eye can see."

Yesterday, along with some coworkers, I went out to the warehouse where the books were delivered and are being stored until the giveaway. Boulder is not known for its warehouse district. Land is not cheap here and even the warehouses we do have are surprisingly close to a very nice golf course. Don't they build swank developments around courses nowadays? The land prices certainly aren't steals. Less than a year ago, the regional wholesaler Books West picked up stakes and moved down to Denver to significantly lower its costs. Finding a warehouse to store the books in was a bit of a chore, but with the help of Impact on Education, a Boulder foundation, they are now safely ensconced in an old storage site belonging to the newspaper The Daily Camera.

We walked through a graveyard of old sidewalk newspaper boxes that spanned the colors of the rainbow to reach the entrance of the dark, vast and deserted building. Once inside, we were met by 20-foot high stacks of huge roles of paper. I mean huge. They make the wheels of a steamroller look benign. There was also a dimly lit old Coke machine that looked like it dated back to the 1960s, and the clock on the wall was still set for daylight savings time. I looked for a 1973 calendar but had no luck. We found our pallets of books in the back left corner of the warehouse. We were there to pull a few samples, maybe grab a few boxes of books that we could sell as remainders and perhaps see if any of the books would be suitable for a giveaway at a teacher event where we sell books in February.

With some trepidation, we began to rip into the giant cardboard boxes. What if all the books were crap? After all, these were castoffs that Penguin had deemed unsellable. Well, the first book I set my eyes on was a pristine paperback copy of the classic young adult novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Laurie Anderson's Speak, a modern classic, was right below it. In another pallet we were greeted by dozens and dozens of copies of Roald Dahl's B.F.G. It was obvious that we had the mother lode of children's books. There were Mad Libs galore (a great way to teach the parts of speech to reluctant readers), as well as Walter the Farting Dog titles (a wonderful way to teach . . . maybe kids don't need to be taught that.)

It made me eager to see how the teachers would respond to all of these quality books. Boulder is a community that values reading, and many kids grow up in households filled with books. Still, not every child has books to call their own and the opportunity to get more books into the hands of teachers and children is greatly valued.

It made me wonder about all those pallets that stretched as far as the eye could see down in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Wouldn't it be great if there were some way to get those books out to the kids that really needed them throughout the country? Would that help create and nurture young readers who in turn would grow up and support Penguin and all the other publishers, along with Book$smart and all the other wholesalers and just about every bookstore in the country? I have no doubt that it would help our industry. I don't even want to get into how much reading benefits the culture at large. Surely, there must be a way to make this happen. The books are just sitting there available for pennies on the dollar. And it's not just Penguin's kids books that are available. HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster and Harcourt books are all being sold like this at various warehouses around the country.

Distributing these books, perhaps striking deals directly with the publishers (sorry Book$mart) would be a larger project than any one book store could take on. However, it does seem that an organization with some logistical skill and a bit of money (Anybody have a contact with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation?) could probably distribute millions of quality kids books to schools and children for relatively little labor and cost.

If you would like to read more about what we are doing in Boulder, check out the article in last week's Daily Camera at Boulder Book Store Donates Books.

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