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10 Tips for Newbies at the SF Library’s Big Book Sale

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big book sale

This week brings one of my favorite shopping events in San Francisco. The bi-annual Friends of the San Francisco Public Library’s Big Book Sale fundraiser! This sale is a broke-ass book lover’s dream and should not be missed. Happening once in the spring and once in the fall, the organization collects thousands and thousands of used books and media and sells it for absurdly low prices – $3 for a hardcover, $2 for paperbacks, and $1 for children’s books and media. Its all spread out in the massive Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. There are amazing finds, but it is not for impatient. Its sort of like TJMaxx on steroids, but for books. The first time I went I was completely unprepared so I’ve put together some tips to make it easier on you newbies.

1.Bring Tote Bags

They have a limited number of shopping carts and hand baskets. If you go on preview day or on the weekend they will run out. The first year I couldn’t get a cart and was limited to what I could carry in my arms. This made me very sad and made my arm hurt. Especially as I watched retirees who had brought their roller baskets and luggage (seriously) to fill with books. Even if you manage to get a cart you’ll want the totes to get your books home rather than pay for the paper shopping bags.

2. Go Early

If you can afford it, get a $40 annual membership, which gets you in on preview day ahead of the general public. Or better yet find a friend who is a member and snag their plus one. If membership isn’t an option, before noon on Thursday or Friday are your best bet for good finds and low crowds. Saturday is your worst option as you’ll battle crowds and have less selection. You can also sign up to volunteer and you will not only get first pick of the books you get a $10 credit.

3. Or Wait Until Sunday

If you are not picky, can’t volunteer and are really broke, wait until Sunday when everything, yes everything, is $1.

IMG_20160331_1120434. Give Yourself Plenty of Time

This is the marathon of book buying. Wear comfy shoes and plan on taking at least 2 hours to feel like you’ve really put in some good hunting. This is not the time to bring along your shopping adverse partner. Also, unless you are planning on only browsing the children’s section with them, or you have an abnormally patient child, leave young kids at home.

5. Check the New Arrivals Table First

Along the right side wall is the New Arrivals table. These are the books that have just come in that day and haven’t been sorted into categories. The selection is best earlier in the day. There is a lot of weird stuff but the occasional score.


5. Use the Map

Pick up a map at the entrance. There are 70 different sections, so the map is essential to finding the topics you are interested in, in a reasonable amount of time and skipping over the New Age section (unless you are into that).

IMG_20160331_1120496. Check the Boxes Under the Tables

Many of the more popular section’s tables are overflowing with books and you’ll find boxes stored underneath them full of more books. I have a theory that they often contain books from the same donor, since you will regularly find books in the same box that fit a taste theme or multiple books from the same author. Many time I have spotted a book I want on top of a box and dug into to find a few more I like.

7. Cast a Wide Net

The books you want aren’t always in the section you think they will be. Remember these have been sorted by volunteers so there is a lot of inconsistency and misinterpretations, as well as people who dump stuff they later decide they don’t want in the wrong section. There are a lot of books and authors and even subject matter that can easily fit in more than one section. I like books on Jewish topics and have found them in Religion, US History, World History and Cultural Studies.  I’ve found William Gibson books in Fiction, Fantasy and Science Fiction. My best find this year was a hard cover edition of Donna Tarrt’s The Goldfinch marked down to $1, inexplicably tucked in with Mysteries.

8. Be Prepared to Need a Car

I walked out with 20 pounds of books this year. There is no way I was walking to Muni and up the hill to my place with that. If you have access to a car, parking is plentiful on the weekdays but $2.50 an hour. If you take public transit there be ready to get a taxi or Lyft home.

IMG_20160331_1250539. Follow the Rules

Yeah, cheap books make some people assholes. Remember, most of the people working the sale are volunteers, so have patience when checking out, you may stand in line for a while because a lot of them are learning how to use the registers on the job. And keep in mind this is a fundraiser for the San Francisco Public Libraries, which are painfully underfunded. Don’t shove someones grandma out of the way to get the latest new release and this isn’t the place to stock up for your used book arbitrage company.

10. Give Back!

If you can’t become a member or volunteer, when you’ve finished with your books donate them for the next sale and give someone else your great find. Books for donation can be dropped off at 1630 17th Street Monday through Friday: 10 am – 4 pm Saturday: 10 am – 2 pm

The Spring Sale runs 10am-6pm through Sunday April 3, and mark your calendar for the Fall Book Sale September 21-26 2016.

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Amiee Kushner

Amiee Kushner

Amiee is SF's favorite ginger Jewess, a native of the Bay Area, and in charge of the money stuff at Broke-Ass Stuart. Unless you are a writer who hasn't got paid yet, then she is just a contributor. She was also the campaign manager for Stuart's quixotic quest to be mayor in 2015. She travels, hikes, stays up way too late and occasional cooks more food than anyone should eat. You can check out some of her super not-kosher recipes at