Alchemy at the Memphis Public Library

Note from Volunteer Odyssey: We’re featuring a series of guest bloggers who’ll share their volunteer experiences in the community. Today’s post comes from Herman P Markell – an extremely dedicated volunteer at the Memphis Public Library. 

Alchemy at the Memphis Public Library
by Herman P Markell

Everything that follows is based on the fact the Memphis Public Library System is one of the key institutions for life enhancement of all Memphians, and its continued growth will have a major positive impact on successfully improving our lives in the future. Just come to Central Library any morning at 830 AM to see people gathering to enter at 10 AM opening. It happens every day.

In 1958, when I returned to Memphis, after being honorably discharged from the US Air Force, I went to work at Parts Distributors Warehouse, later renamed CARQUEST Distribution Center, and stayed for 53 years.

During those years, I volunteered at the Jewish Community Center, United Way and many other organizations in the Jewish and general community, fundraising , committee and Board responsibilities and leadership roles in some.

In 1993, I volunteered to read on the Memphis Public Library’s FM station for the visually impaired, WYPL, 89.3, and continue to do so to this day. 1533 hours of broadcasts in the first 20 years. I love the books I read and my enjoyment doubles knowing I’m helping someone else enjoy as well.

About 5 years ago, I volunteered to help Friends of the Library’s May book sale, and found out what and how a small handful of Friends’ volunteers continue to have an annual positive influence on our Library’s budget, approximating $400,000 annually! And I knew I had to be a part of it.

Herman in high speed. Photo credit: Memphis Public Library

Herman in high speed. Photo credit: Memphis Public Library

Since then, I have averaged 1,200 or more hours a year, sorting through approximately 325,000 donations and Library discards annually which turn into this amazing amount of money for our Library.  And this is how we do it, with a small number of volunteers, and 3 paid, part time employees.

We cull material we cannot use and send to a local recycler. Last year, we kept 74 tons of mixed paper out of the landfill. Next we choose materials we cannot monetize and give them to government agencies and non profits. We have about 24 active clients, the largest being the Books for Busses program, who make them available to their customers, from bookcases in each of the 3 City bus terminals, FREE. They average giving away about 500 books a month. Hospitals, Church Health Center, local jails, prisons, and many schools and others throughout Shelby County, as well as Little Free Libraries for children all over the City. Our donations totaled over 15,000 pieces last year to these clients.

Then we begin the process of turning the rest into dollars. And all profits go directly to our Library system.

Our huge biannual community book sales are held at Benjamin L Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar, where highest price is $3.00. We have 18,000 items or more on display and thousands of customers attend the 2 day events.

The next level is Second Editions, often described as “the best used bookstore in the Mid South.”

It is located in the lobby of Central Library, and has constantly refreshed inventory of about 15,000 pieces, average price a bit over $3. Special sections include  children, teens, non fiction, hard and paper backed fiction, romance novels, advanced readers copies, signed books, Memphis themed books, vintage paperbacks, and collectors editions, and more. 2 part time staff and a number of dedicated volunteers are very attentive to customers seven days a week.

The most valuable books are sold through Amazon, and MEMFOL books, our internet name, and we maintain a 5 star rating for customer satisfaction. Visit our Amazon Store.

Jim in the "Amazon Room"

Jim in the “Amazon Room”. Photo Credit: Memphis Public Library

There are over 13,000 books in inventory, new titles added daily, and is the fastest growing profit center we have. Most sales are shipped in the continental US, but we have shipped internationally as well, with negotiated delivery costs. Sale prices go from $4 sheet music to books and sets over $500. Great operation, with another small crew of volunteers and our other part time employee.

And one more step. Almost half of our financial impact is in cost avoidance for Library collection additions. All Friends inventory is available first to Library staff who constantly check to see if we have received any books that can put into Library inventory, rather than purchase. At an average library acquisition cost of $23 per book, we save the library a huge amount each year.

All this from a group of people who are knowledgeable, hard working and delight in doing the impossible, turning dross into gold. We are Alchemists; and all for our Memphis Public Library System.

We only solicit the general community to join Friends of the Library, $10 a year, all of which goes directly to the Branch of your choice. They spend that money enhancing their customers’ experience, and furnish materials not covered in their budget.

I always loved books and bargain sales. In working with Friends of the Library (FOL), I get to enjoy both of these!  Friends of the Library helps to get donations and turn them into money for the library through our discounted book sales. We also provide lots of books for non-profit organizations that need them.  I’ve always loved doing something enjoyable that can benefit others at the same time. Volunteering at the library lets achieve this.  And I have been so blessed in my life, that I want to do things for others, who may not be as fortunate.

You can see why we are so dedicated, and want you to help. How?

Keep donating your books to the Library, large quantities to Central dock area where Staff will unload your car or truck, at 3030 Poplar. Smaller donations can be taken to your local branch. And attend our twice a year book sales for great bargains and a fun experience. And get amazing values on Second Edition purchases. Join as a Friend. And if any of this really motivates you to want to become one of the best and most productive group I’ve ever seen, call Terrice Thomas, our Volunteer Coordinator, at 415-2840, and she’ll make it happen. We have a variety of times to suit your schedule.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to describe the amazing work of Memphis Friends of the Library. Join with us in any of the ways I’ve listed. And tell someone else about us.

Are you looking for great volunteer opportunities in Memphis?
Check out our Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities.

If you like our work, please DONATE to keep it going!

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