Browsers look for bargains and hidden gems at the South Pasadena Library’s second-floor used bookstore. Photos by Henk Friezer

Somebody’s discards are another person’s diamonds at the Friends bookstore at the South Pasadena Library.

A few years ago, a book on the history of concrete in France went up for bid in the silent auction held by the store.

The winning bid, to the volunteers’ delight, was — drum roll, please — $200.

I could buy a lot of real concrete at that price, considering an 80-pound bag of Quikrete can sell for about $5. Of course, that is not French concrete.

I’ve also had the urge to indulge after looking through the vintage books — usually located on racks outside the second floor of the bookstore.

I spent about $50 for a six-volume set called “Our Times” by a journalist named Mark Sullivan, who wrote contemporaneously about the period from 1890s through the 1920s.

The 50 volunteers who work in the bookstore never know when people like the concrete man or me might wander in and make their day.

“That’s what makes this so much fun,” store co-chair Donna Potts said with a laugh. “It seems like there is a book for every patron.”

Potts admitted that everyone was surprised at what someone paid for the concrete book.

“You just never know,” she said.

Volunteers Rene Rubin (left) and Marcia Sainer.

“We have to be open about looking through the books we get because sometimes the things people give away as junk are really what someone else is looking for,” added Marcia Sainer, another co-chair of the bookstore, which is an arm of the Friends of the Library.

Those book sales have brought in more than $1 million dollars for the Friends since the project was started in 1981.

One hundred percent of the profits from the store goes to the Friends, which uses the money to help improve the library. Potts said a lot of the money goes to help sponsor programs for the children’s department, including the summer reading program.

Think of what volunteers have had to do to earn more than a million dollars. Potts estimates that, twice a week, people bring in 15-20 boxes of books. She guesses that is 800 books each week, which comes out to about 41,000 book donations each year.


Sainer admitted that is a lot of books to “schlep” from one place to another after being sorted (which is also a schlep — a Yiddish word meaning to carry a heavy load — of a different kind).

Every book gets sorted in a room in the back of the library.

Some of the older books — or those signed by an author — are researched as to their possible value. Other books are priced as to whether they are newer, or if they are hard- or soft-backed.

Lily Lei picks up some advice in the child-care section.

Some of the books are real finds — like a first edition of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Those books are often put up for a silent auction, which is displayed in the front of the library.

Other items the workers consider “best buys” among the books, records and CDs they have collected throughout the year are saved for the Friends annual holiday book sale, which can bring in up to $5,000 a year. A book sale during one Art Crawl brought in about $800.

Other books are upstairs, along with a collection of fiction, non-fiction, history and a myriad of other topics, including medical dictionaries, financial books and even catalogues from antique companies.

“Every so often we’ll get someone who comes in and is frantic because they gave away a book they really wanted to keep. Then we have to go through the boxes to find the book,” said Mary

Bart, one of the processors.

The bookstore is open seven days a week, and the schedule varies according to library hours.

People may be finding recipes online, but cookbooks are still a hot items for people to buy, according to the people who supervise the store. Vinyl records, audio books and children’s books are also popular.

“We used to worry that with e-readers no one would be buying books any more, but I guess that is not the case,” Sainer said.

Then, there are those books labelled as “last chance.” These range  from — I counted them — at least 40 “Star Trek’’ paperbacks to children’s storybooks. All of these sell for 50 cents.

The last chance books have a new home in the back of the redesigned first floor. If you haven’t been to the library lately, the main area has been redesigned with a new checkout and information station, and a much more open feeling that lets you really appreciate the beauty of the stained glass on the front entrance.

The current silent auction has a selection that has already attracted at least one bid. That is a copy of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s “Common Sense Book of Baby Care.” It is described as being in very good condition and appears to be an early edition.

It will be interesting to see if baby-book bids boom.

I must admit that I served on the library board for two terms and am a volunteer of the library. The Friends once ran out of space to store their boxes of books, and I ended up with a dozen boxes in my garage.

My email is Please write if you have any story ideas about people, places or things of interest to South Pasadena residents.