This year, Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library’s annual used book sale takes place Nov. 23-27 at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. (photo from IWJPL)
For many of us, the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library is the go-to place when looking for that irresistible book to read. It’s also where we search for that compelling DVD on Jewish culture that other libraries are unlikely to carry. It’s the place where unique book launches are held, where we might send our kids (or ourselves) for Hebrew lessons and where there are discussions on Israeli politics, Jewish culture or Yiddish literature just about any day.
This month, the library revisits another tradition, with its annual book sale Nov. 23-27, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (concurrently with the Cherie Smith JCCGV Jewish Book Festival). The five-day event has been going on for almost 20 years and has become iconic for the library and its many patrons, said Waldman librarian Helen Pinsky.
“We sell literally thousands of books during that time,” she said. This year’s event will be no different. The library, with the help of volunteers, has been busily unpacking and cataloguing books that have been donated to them by patrons around the city.
“Some books come from the library because we have to keep everything circulating,” Pinsky explained. Older books that may no longer be read as frequently become great candidates for the sale, along with those that are donated by families and organizations. “We have assisted many, many people in downsizing.”
She added, “People wait for this event from year to year and tell us that this is one of the highlights of their book-buying.” Customers include not just members of the Jewish community, but many people from other Lower Mainland communities who rely on the sale for Judaic literature. “We also have a very huge following among the Christian community – people who know about it, and come in … to collect books that are valuable to them.”
And the money that’s raised is important, said Pinsky, who explained that many of the library’s financial engines are run on what is gained from the sale. Book purchases, operational costs and special presentations at the library all succeed, in part, because of the generosity of donors and the support of volunteers. “We have always relied on it as a very stable source of raising funds,” she said.
One of the benefactors of the sale is the library’s speakers series, which routinely hosts presenters from a wide variety of backgrounds. Pinsky said the library considers hosting presentations on the Holocaust and the experiences of concentration camp survivors to be one of its more important missions.
“We have been very conscious of [the need] lately, because the last of the survivors are coming to the ends of their lives,” she said. The library has previously featured presentations by local survivors and others who have wanted to share their stories. The book launches have often featured stories of individuals who have dedicated their lives to teaching younger generations. She said the library strives to offer “the kind of information that will help the community to constantly remember” the effects that the Shoah left in its wake.
Most of the library staff is volunteers. Pinsky said their service is essential not only to a smooth-running facility, but to the success of the book sale. Hannah Frankel, who unpacks and catalogues the donations, has been volunteering her time for four or five years. She said the popularity of the sale can be seen in the volume and quality of the donations. Just weeks before the event, donations were still arriving “in the hundreds.”
Frankel speculated that most of the donations are the result of “word of mouth” advertising. “People seem to know we exist,” she said simply.
For Frankel, ensuring that Vancouver has a strong and vibrant library is a large part of why she volunteers her time for the sale. “I just think it is important for the Jewish community to have a Jewish library,” she said.
Jan Lee’s articles have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, thedailyrabbi.com and Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism. She also writes on sustainable business practices for TriplePundit.com. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.