Hidden Gems of Tuscaloosa: Find literary treasure at the Friends of the Library Bookstore

Hidden+Gems+of+Tuscaloosa%3A+Find+literary+treasure+at+the+Friends+of+the+Library+Bookstore

Photo courtesy of Caroline Giddis. 

Sam West

Book lovers beware. Hidden on the left hand side of the Tuscaloosa Public Library is a treasure trove filled with fiction, biographies, westerns and more, all costing between $1 and $3. Once you discover it, the Friends of the Library Bookstore is hard to stay away from.

Run solely on inventory donations, the shop sells books, CDs, DVDs, vinyl records and more at an unbelievably low price. The purpose: to support the library next door.

“We give about 80,000 dollars to the library out of selling $1, $2 and $3 books,” said Bess Miller, president of the Friends of the Library board of trustees. The Friends of the Library is an organization that works to support the library both financially and personally.

The money raised in the past has gone to buying extra books for the library’s summer reading program, purchasing a “Bookmobile” and bringing in equipment such as computers. Everything they have in the store is brought in by people in the community who simply don’t have the heart to throw books or other things away.

“All our books are donated to us, we don’t buy any of it,” said Gary Morris, the bookstore manager, who started buying books from the store 21 years ago when it was just a garage filled with boxes.

“We couldn’t do it if the community didn’t support us by giving us books,” Miller said.

One of 65 volunteers who help run the bookstore, Kay Kirkley knows it’s a love of books that motivates almost everyone to become involved. She previously shelved books for the library as a part time job, but on the side, as she had full time job as well. When Kirkley retired, she told herself she would get involved in the Friends of the Library bookstore.

“I love books. I could be down in the dumps or not feeling really good and I come in here and get all pumped up,” Kirkley said.

The unpredictability of what books will come in keeps Kirkley excited as a volunteer shelver because she’s one of the first people to look through donations. Because the bookstore is only filled with the books they receive, it makes book hunters intrigued to come back daily or weekly to see what they might find.

“Check back on a regular basis, if you don’t find the book you’re looking for the first time, come back the next week,” Morris said.

The shelves are labeled by sections such as: General Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Sci-Fi, Music, etc. Not to mention a large section of the bookstore is filled with children’s books, which are 50 cents. Many teachers in the area have found the bookstore to be the perfect place to buy classroom books, and many times come to the store spending on their own dime so that their kids will have more to read.

“To me this bookstore has a dual mission, one it supports the library, but also I think it promotes reading, because people can come in here and buy a book that maybe can’t go to an expensive bookstore,” Miller said. “In a way I think it promotes literacy.”

However, the bookstore would be nothing without the 65 dedicated volunteers who work shifts throughout each month and create a welcoming, familial environment for customers.

“Our volunteers are so wonderful,” said Janet Richards, the volunteer coordinator. “If you’re a book lover it’s a great place to be.”

The event that brings in the most money with tons of dedicated customers is the Stuff-A-Sack sale on the first Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Each customer buys a brown paper grocery sack for $25 and can fill it to their heart’s content. The sale brings in revenue anywhere from $900 to $1,000 each time.

“That’s when we have our real repeat customers,” said Richards. “We have people who come from Mississippi for it.”

The bookstore only accepts cash or checks, but will cheerfully show you the closest ATM if you happen to come by with only a credit card. If the store is not open, silver and blue donation bins are located outside where people can bring their goods. If a donor is looking for a tax return receipt, the staff is more than happy to provide one when the store is open.

The bookstore is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Customers can also come by on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information on the bookstore, call 205-722-5208.