It’s not as if I need any more books, but it seems they accumulate faster than they get purged. Library book fair day is always something spontaneously attended as there are a number of small libraries scattered throughout our area where book sales occur throughout the year. Never planned, I always seem to find myself there. Usually it means running into a variety of local friends and acquaintances, some that are only seen once or twice a year. Pleasant chit-chat ensues amidst a bit of crowding as we meander through the long rows of stacked books looking for a few gems of interest to entice the eye. This year though, something was different.
It was a sunny, clear morning as I set off for the library. Detouring down one of the usual neighborhood side roads, I discovered too late that there was a block-long tag sale going on. Every single house on the street had tables, driveways and front yards filled with the contents of their garages and attics for sale. Cars were haphazardly pulled over to park on both sides of the narrow street, emptying their contents of eager and fast-walking bargain hunters, creating a palpable static. There was no room to back up and no room to move forward – I remained stuck as a large pickup truck totally blocked my path while waiting for someone to get back into their car and free up a spot. The driver scowled at me from behind her steering wheel. With no place to pull off to let her by, I threw up my hands in a “what am I supposed to do gesture.” But she wasn’t going to back up and let me through, so we were at a stalemate. It was suddenly not such a nice start to the day. I edged my car over as far as I could without denting one of the parked cars, finally allowing yet another scowling woman to pull out of a parking space. The truck edged in quickly, clearly suspecting that I was going to steal her space (I wasn’t), narrowly missing my fender. Continuing further down the street and on to my escape, I could not help but notice that the pushy throng of treasure-seekers on the sidewalk did not look happy, but rather intense and grabby, as if at a Black Friday sidewalk sale in early June.
The library fair had only been going on for about a half hour when I arrived. It was the most crowded I had ever seen it, with streams of excited bibliophiles striding purposefully towards the tents filled with books. Elbow to elbow, bumping and tripping over each other, profuse with “Excuse me,” “Oh, I’m sorry!” we made our way down the rows as we browsed. That is when I noticed something different was happening.
Crouching under tables, reaching around the feet of the browsers, rifling through boxes and cruising along the tables at high-speed were a perhaps four of five people using their cell phones or other devices to scan the books. They were not enjoying the titles or searching for a subject of interest. Clearly they were book dealers with scanners trying to find the titles that were rare or would be able to bring in money. Without even looking at the title they would quickly scan the book jacket with the disinterested demeanor of a supermarket checker running through a large order, dumping large quantities of books into their boxes.
On one hand, I suppose it is a good thing for the library to be able to sell as many used books as possible, regardless of what the reason is. And yes, everybody has to make a living, including second-hand booksellers, who do take the work out of searching for titles an interested party might want to find. Yet there was something that felt rather grubby about seeing these somewhat mercenary individuals at a friendly, small-town library fair zipping through the stacks at lightening speed without really caring what each book, each story, each gem of information, had to hold within its pages beyond its monetary value. There was something unsettling about not allowing the book-lovers there to even get a chance to see what treasures might have been available before they were dumped unseeing into the dealers boxes.
What happened here, and on the street earlier in the day, is one of the reasons I rarely frequent flea-markets anymore either. Browsing tables of bric-a-brac used to be something I loved, but the competitive air surrounding many of them these days has definitely taken some of the joy out of it. I came away with a few interesting books for myself and for friends and saw some people I knew. The point wasn’t that I missed out on anything “good”, because there were thousands of choices and certainly enough to leave one pleased with what they found. For sure, second-hand dealers have been doing these searches for years and technology has just sped up their process. But somehow, seeing people mechanically rifling through the books with scanners seemed to lend a sadly distasteful air to the event. It was just a little bit…… grubby.