WILKES-BARRE — At 23, Jeffrey Ford already is a veteran visitor to the Friends of the Osterhout Free Library book sale.
Eyes gliding over row upon row of paperback spines Monday afternoon, Ford couldn’t quite remember when he first came to the annual book bonanza in search of science-fiction titles and comics. As to the event’s greater significance, he had no doubt.
“It’s an important part of the community,” Ford said of the 124-year-old institution, which benefits from the yearly sale proceeds. “Libraries are an important part of any community in general.”
The sale, which kicked off its week-long run on Saturday, is expected to generate more than $20,000 to support the library and its programs, said Friends president and sale co-chairwoman Ronnie Buzinkai. By Monday afternoon $8,677 had been raised, she said.
All the books are donated, and every dime raised by the all-volunteer effort is funnelled back into the facility, Buzinkai and library executive director Richard Miller said.
In a year when the library has cut hours due to decreased funding, every one of those dimes counts, Miller said, especially to the 180,000 people who visit the main library and its branches annually in search of everything from books and community programs to information needed for school projects or job searches.
“It’s hard to wrap your arms around what a library does, because we do so many things for so many people,” Miller said.
“It’s the one place where everyone is equal,” Buzinkai said. “It’s the one true democracy.”
The library has an annual budget of about $2 million, and has seen a cumulative funding reduction of about 20 percent since the last recession that began more than four years ago. The largest single reduction was a $225,000 cut in state funding in 2009.
Fundraising and endowment sources account for about 30 percent of the annual budget, and other events include a yearly fund drive, a downtown rooftop gala and golf tournament, Miller said. Among fundraising efforts, the book sale, now in its 37th year, is the Friends’ signature contribution to the cause.
While browsers milled about the book tent Monday, Buzinkai headed into the library’s basement — “the dungeon,” she quipped — ducking her head beneath aging beams and low-hanging pipes to talk about where much of the work gets done amid stacks of boxes organized by genre. As the sale progresses, volunteers ascend from the cellar with carts of books to replenish the stock.
“One day, we had a 75-year-old man down here with a heart condition and two old ladies — and I’m one of them,” Buzinkai laughed. “We always need more volunteers.”
“It’s a huge effort for a small number of people,” Miller added.
And it’s an effort that begins anew each year. When the sale ends, any remaining books are donated to the Salvation Army, Buzinkai said. Volunteers tried storing leftover books one year, but new donations — one thing which never seems to be in short supply — quickly overran available storage space, she said.
“Every year we have new books,” Buzinkai said.