Dr. Lynn Remly, president
When the Friends of the Hudson Library started their book sales decades ago, they were cramped into the basement of the 1910 building on Aurora Road, lucky to bring in $50 for a good 8-hour sale, according to Eunice Friedman, vice president of the Friends and a 50-year veteran of the sales.
Today, the Friends sales reach coast to coast, to all states, to millions of customers; their opening hours now extend to 24/7, all thanks to an online sales effort that has brought in $16,000 in just three years.
The world has changed, and the Friends have adapted. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Friedman recalls the 1970s, when the population of Hudson was about 10,000 and the city still a small town centered on the Clocktower square. The sales room in the basement of the old library was “like a shoebox,” she remembers, with books lining two creaky shelves along the walls and piled on rows of bookcases down the center. Organization was in short supply. No windows meant dingy viewing, and the small room – sharing space with the archives and the staff lunchroom – meant limited patrons.
“We squeezed as much as possible into a tiny spot and were lucky to have five buyers in the room at a time,” according to Friedman. “It was really a Mom-and-Pop book sale.”
The move to the new library in 2005 meant more room, and dedicated volunteers organized the new, larger sale room to make things easy to find, but still, lack of space and volunteers meant ongoing limitations. Nonetheless, in 2019, the last pre-COVID sale year brought $35,000 into the library budget from the Friends’ on-site book sales.
Then, as is so often the case, one bright idea changed everything. Marilyn Orr, at-large member of the Friends board, suggested that the Friends consider online sales. Until then, no one had the computer expertise to consider such an undertaking, but Orr, with a background in health care finance and a thorough familiarity with computers, grasped the potential immediately.
Orr had moved to Hudson after her husband’s death in 2012, to be closer to her children and grandchildren. She was immediately drawn to the library and the Friends as a means of getting involved in the community. “The library is the most attractive thing about Hudson,” she feels. “You’ll never find such an extensive range of programming elsewhere, on top of its collections and interlibrary loan services. I bring my grandkids over all the time, and the streaming services helped me keep my sanity during COVID.”
The perfect storm of events pushed Orr into setting up her online sales system. “My sister-in-law is a children’s librarian, and she had a contact for selling books online,” remembers Orr. In addition, her sister, the retired comptroller of Goodwill Industries in Kansas City, told her all about their online sales.
“As a sorter for the Friends, I kept seeing first-rate books we couldn’t use in our small store. I knew there had to be a market out there, so the idea of selling online nagged at me.” Suddenly, it all clicked. Just as she was planning, the Friends received a donation of 2,500 high-quality books from Orr’s friend, Marilyn Flower, as part of her downsizing.
“It all came together at once,” Orr says. “I had reviewed Amazon’s program and was ready to start; the book donation gave me something to work with, a final jolt. We were up and running.” At first, Orr was a one-man band, navigating the intricacies of the Amazon system and learning how to grade and price books in an enormous market: Amazon now has almost 150 million Prime subscribers in the United States. alone, where its share of the e-commerce market is 49%. That’s a long way from a 10×12 foot room in the basement of the old library.
Her first year, monthly sales averaged a few hundred dollars, but they quickly headed northwards. When COVID hit, sales continued strong, as people stayed home more and read more. The library had closed, and online was the only game in town. Learning as she went, Orr developed a system that starts with inspecting every book of the hundreds donated weekly to the Friends, mainly for condition. She then checks the popularity of a book and the number of copies available for sale.
“I had no background in retail; I had to figure out how to value things by making a sort of ‘report card’ for each book.” With the initial donation of 2,500 books, she worked eight hours a day as she gained the experience needed to fix a price. “But, it’s a labor of love,” she feels, “and now I can do something at the same time as evaluation – listen to music or to an audio book, talk to my mother-in-law. The system is set.”
She then managed to recruit four sorters to screen books as they come in as donations, which simplified the process dramatically. But she was still toiling alone with pricing, listing, and packaging. Donations in 2021 numbered 187, each comprising many boxes of books, so that further help became critical.
After reading an article about the Friends in the Hub-Times, longtime Hudson resident Pat Kavulic answered the call. “It was time for me to get involved, since my whole family – kids and grandkids – love and use the library,” Kavulic says. “I felt I could help.”
From the start, it was a perfect fit, she feels. “I contacted the volunteer coordinator, Bev Dorson, and as soon as I said I was fluent in computers, she put me in touch with Marilyn Orr, who put me to work.” Kavulic’s background centered on 35 years’ experience as support staff in California and Ohio, giving her familiarity with all major computer programs. As assistant to the Dean of Students at Pepperdine University, for example, her work was mainly in admissions, “all Internet,” she says.
Similarly, during her 16 years volunteering with Hudson Community Chapel (now Christ Community Chapel), she supported all the departments, and everything was internet-based. “I am the internet queen,” she boasts. Orr already had her Amazon system up and running, so Kavulic stepped in to follow her lead. “It’s no longer a one-person job. Even with the four additional volunteers, someone had to do the grunt work of evaluating hundreds of donated books to see if it was even worth proceeding with a sale.”
Now, the two work closely as a team, organizing, updating, re-evaluating the listings, removing things that don’t sell, sometimes adjusting prices. Over the past three years, Orr has brought in over $16,000 in Amazon sales, and she emphasizes that these are not books that can be sold in the bookstore. “The store is too small to hold everything we receive, so we have to shelve the things we know will sell quickly,” Orr says. “The rest we can offer online.”
Old textbooks would only gather dust on the store shelves, for example, but Orr recently sold a softcover edition of a seven-year-old textbook, “Campbell’s Biology,” for $125 and a 1999 edition of “Fundamental Concepts in the Design of Experiments” for $89.95. She sells to schools, libraries, college book stores, gift shops, law firms, medical offices, and other Amazon sellers, as well as individuals looking for a good read or something to fill a slot in their personal libraries. Her best seller of all time was a two-volume “R.E. Lee: A Biography,” for $315. Her fastest sale was 90 minutes after posting.
The Friends consistently earn a 5-star rating with Amazon buyers. Orr and Kavulic usually come in to work when the Friends bookstore is not open, in a back room dedicated to online sales. Occasionally, however, Orr works when a sale is ongoing, and then, it’s let the buyer beware.
Friends president and saleslady Lynn Remly found a biography of Winston Churchill for a young man one afternoon. He decided against it, however, and set the book on a chair while continuing to browse. Orr spotted the book, thought it might be ripe for Amazon, and immediately sold it for $32. Likewise, Remly was reading an autobiography of opera great Renee Fleming during a slow time when Orr came into the sale room. “I was about 20 pages from finishing when Marilyn told me she could sell the book on Amazon, so she took it,” Remly remembers. “I suppose I can find out the rest of the autobiography by reading Wikipedia.”
Kavulic notes that a further benefit from the online sales comes with the possibility of buyers making contributions by designating the Friends of the Hudson Library as their preferred charity on smile.Amazon when they make any online purchases. “By designating the Friends, you ensure that 0.5% of your every Amazon purchase goes to the Friends and therefore to the library.”
Kavulic notes. “Even if it only amounts to $5 for each person, that’s a ton of money when all patrons’ contributions are added together.” Riding the wave of the future, the Friends continue to bring in profit for the library. “There’s no downside,” Orr feels. “It’s not your grandmother’s book sale anymore.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Friends should contact Bev Dorson, volunteer coordinator, at email@example.com. Anyone interested in becoming a member should contact membership chair Denise Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org.