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We're talking 30 tonnes of books.
June 8, 2011 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Book rescue turns nightmarish. A Saskatchewan couple saved 350,000 books from being burned by a neighbor, but now the house they bought just to store the collection is collapsing from the weight. What to do?
posted by Tsuga (113 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Give them to the Internet Archive?
posted by facetious at 3:21 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Burning books because no one wants them is not the same as burning them so no one else can read them.

Transfer them to the "kindle", I say.
posted by Trurl at 3:25 PM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


A Kindle version of the first edition of Black Beauty is not valuable in the same way as the actual book-you-can-hold-in-your-hand is.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:28 PM on June 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


What to do? Donate them. And if nobody wants them, use them for fuel in the winter. Or recycle them.

Books are not puppies. We don't protect them from being burned because they're precious living things. We protect them from being burned in because, in some instances, the people burning books are trying to destroy the ideas contained in the books. "Book burning" is a symbol of a specific sort of evil - not a literal description of the evil thing.
posted by The World Famous at 3:29 PM on June 8, 2011 [40 favorites]


Maybe use them as compost. Paper composts well enough and old books are probably halfway there already.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:31 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the article: Raycraft tried selling the books on eBay, and to collectors and used book stores, but no one wants the task of sorting through them.

If the rescuers are not willing to sort through a giant collection of free merchandise in order to sell it for a profit, they are not rescuers at all.
posted by The World Famous at 3:32 PM on June 8, 2011 [19 favorites]


Take it to AskMe?
posted by vidur at 3:34 PM on June 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


not the same as holding a first edition etc? Why make a fetish of the thing. The story remains the same: it is either appealing for you as a read or it is not.
posted by Postroad at 3:34 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Paging Jason Scott. Jason Scott to thread 104359.
posted by boo_radley at 3:34 PM on June 8, 2011


Glue+Brush+huge pile of books = sculpture waiting to happen. Or a paper igloo. Or something...
posted by blaneyphoto at 3:35 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


So now the Raycrafts have come to the end of the road with all the books. "We are kind of at a standstill," said Raycraft. "I work at two jobs. My husband is a full-time student. We have three kids and no time. And no money. And so we're at the point now where were looking at having to burn some of the books ourselves."

Here's a crazy idea: how about selling a few of the books?
posted by wcfields at 3:48 PM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm guessing that the "first edition" wasn't an actual first edition. Maybe a book club first edition.

The books range from old textbooks to volumes of Shakespeare to 'How-To' manuals.

@wcfields--they tried to put them on ebay, but no one wanted them.

Raycraft tried selling the books on eBay, and to collectors and used book stores, but no one wants the task of sorting through them.

Because the original owner sounds more like a hoarder than an actual bibliophile. No good deed goes unpunished.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:51 PM on June 8, 2011


Put an ad in the local newspaper: "Box o' Books: $10"
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:52 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here is an idea, tally up the cost of sorting and pricing the books, start a kickstarter project to sort and price them, with the funders getting first dibs and credit to buy what they want.
posted by empath at 3:53 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's a crazy idea: how about selling a few of the books?

Uh, they tried but they have no way of going through them to figure out which are valuable, and which aren't. They could catalog them and put them up for sale on amazon if they had the time.
posted by delmoi at 3:55 PM on June 8, 2011


This is sad. I would go help if I lived close. : /
posted by Glinn at 3:58 PM on June 8, 2011


I'm guessing that the "first edition" wasn't an actual first edition.

QFT. I do not get the vibe from these people that they have a copy of Ahearn handy. The first thing you learn working in a used book store is that basically nobody who says they have a first edition or says the condition is "not that bad for how old it is" knows what the fuck they are talking about.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:58 PM on June 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Heard at 1:15 (video): "Her dream is to build her own liberry.."

facepalm.
posted by erasorhed at 3:59 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'll take 'em.
posted by wayland at 3:59 PM on June 8, 2011


Uh, they tried but they have no way of going through them to figure out which are valuable, and which aren't.

Why would they have to figure that out?
posted by The World Famous at 3:59 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


This reminds me of an used bookstore that used to be in Wheaton, MD (it is now gone) where the books seemed to be supporting the ceiling. It was a SF/F/comics bookstore, and books were double- and triple-shelved, piled up to the ceiling.

The bottom of the market for used books has fallen out, due to Amazon Marketplace sellers undercutting prices ($0.01 per book).
posted by bad grammar at 4:00 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The World Famous : If the rescuers are not willing to sort through a giant collection of free merchandise in order to sell it for a profit, they are not rescuers at all.

In fairness, 350k books counts as a HELL of a lot of books. Significantly bigger than most town libraries. Even processing one book per minute for a typical 8-hour day, still talking about two years of work.

I would suggest a mass volunteer scanning (EAN, not the whole thing) party... If they can get 100 people, with half doing prep (orient the book optimally for scanning) and half scanning (not actually looking them up, just get them entered into a local DB), they could at least identify the whole collection in a day or two. The rest amounts to CPU time and bandwidth, and if it takes a month to let a script look them up and list them for sale on Amazon/EBay/whatever, no big deal.

Alternatively, for selling them bulk and unidentified, it might help to list them in small lots of "one box" guaranteed to contain less than 50% Readers Digest Condensed Editions (hell, just burn those right up front, not worth saving) or 50+ year old encyclopedia sets, for just the cost of shipping.
posted by pla at 4:04 PM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Transfer them to the "kindle", I say.

Kindling?
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:05 PM on June 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Every once in a while I see a craigslist ad in my area like "selling entire basement vinyl record collection... thousands of LPs and 45s... might be valuable, might not be. I'm not listing or selling individual records, you take the whole thing for $300." No one ever bites, as far as I can tell. This is because a random massive collection of records is not valuable in and of itself, especially when you consider storage, hauling, and condition. It's usually more trouble than it's worth. I don't see how books are any different. Their "rescue" wasn't particularly noteworthy or altruistic, just foolhardy.
posted by naju at 4:07 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


C'mon art project! You could make a library out of the books.
posted by queensissy at 4:07 PM on June 8, 2011


In fairness, 350k books counts as a HELL of a lot of books.

That's the approximate number of books the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library attempts to sell at the Fort Mason book sale. 350,000 books. It's usually held in a building on the pier that's about 100 feet wide by 500 feet long, absolutely full of tables carrying enormous piles of books. Thankfully, they don't have a $5/bag sale at that one.

If they had a large enough space and advertised on Booksale Finder, their collection could attract people from a good distance away. Maybe the library in Regina or Saskatoon could take all or part of the collection off their hands.
posted by phoebus at 4:14 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


One winter when I was in college, I lived in a huge two-story apartment with a wood-burning stove. That thing kept the whole apartment toasty warm all winter, and we didn't even have free books to put in it. I wonder how many winters 350,000 books would last as fuel for a single-family home. Better yet, I wonder how many homes those books could heat for a single winter. Eliminating the fossil fuel needs of a bunch of families for a winter seems to me like at least as noble a goal as salvaging 350,000 books that nobody has time to catalog and that nobody's trying to ban.
posted by The World Famous at 4:14 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Uh, they tried but they have no way of going through them to figure out which are valuable, and which aren't.

They've had these books for 5 years and spent CAD$15,000 on this glorified shed they are storing them in. If they haven't managed to figure out even the basics by now, then they are kind of incompetent. Sure, 350,000 books is a lot to catalog, but they ought to have been able to catalog a few thousand by now and look them up in some library or book collector trade databases, and extrapolate the potential value of the whole collection from a random sample.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:15 PM on June 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


If the archive people could just send them a skid of those "holds about 40 books" boxes, they could start packing them up and putting them in one of those PODS containers. Might take a week of boxing stuff up? Head 'em up and move 'em out.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:18 PM on June 8, 2011


I suppose there's an off-chance that that was a true first edition Black Beauty (very difficult to find, easily worth several thousand dollars), but from their description of that collection, I have my doubts. "Old textbooks," "how-to manuals," and "volumes of Shakespeare" have no market value, and if donated to a library, would just wind up on the "Friends of the Library" sale table for .50 a pop. I'm pretty obsessive about my own library, but there's nothing sacrosanct about an old textbook. Granted, they might have historical value to an academic working on the history of education, but that's about it.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:20 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


If they're going for volume, then they should set every flat surface they can out on their lawn, put out some plastic shopping bags, and charge 10 dollars per bag for all you can take. Maybe you lose some valuable stuff, but you also move a lot of dross. You don't get anywhere near your money back, but you do free up a lot of room.

The archive.org idea isn't bad either.
posted by codacorolla at 4:29 PM on June 8, 2011


I wonder how many winters 350,000 books would last as fuel for a single-family home. Better yet, I wonder how many homes those books could heat for a single winter.

[energynerd]
My good sized reasonably insulated house in Vermont uses about 90 million BTU a year for heat and hot water. I think about 20% of that goes to domestic hot water. Let's call it 70 MMBtu for heat. A cord of wood has 18-24 MMBtu. If we assume for books you get 20 MMBtu per cord (4,000 pounds) that would be about 14,000 pounds a year of books burned for heat. Weighing random books in my house I'm just going to ballpark a pound per book. That means you could heat my house for 25 years with these books. At current prices the books would be worth about $0.05 to $0.08 each in fuel value if these calculations are on. Even if the books are lighter on average, and less energy dense they still have value in this quantity.
[/energynerd]
posted by meinvt at 4:29 PM on June 8, 2011 [23 favorites]


Fun fact: Getting books to burn properly is really, really hard.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:32 PM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Just think, this stockpile could be used to stabilize 350,000 wonky tables all over the country.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:40 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


"She didn't know how to deal with them so she started to burn them," Raycraft explained.

Low hanging fruit.
posted by Splunge at 4:41 PM on June 8, 2011


Should oughtta build a house outta them. Good insulation.

Spine facing in, so if you need to extract one for research purposes, you can replace it.
posted by ovvl at 4:41 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is it not a double if it was only in a comment? Yesterday.
posted by Houstonian at 4:43 PM on June 8, 2011


So now the Raycrafts have come to the end of the road with all the books. "We are kind of at a standstill," said Raycraft. I work at two jobs. My husband is a full-time student. We have three kids and no time. And no money.

Yeah, these people did a dumb thing they had no capacity to deal with. Unfortunate for them but I'm not sure why I'm supposed to care. I bet a billion books are destroyed every day of the year.

Every once in a while I see a craigslist ad in my area like "selling entire basement vinyl record collection... thousands of LPs and 45s... might be valuable, might not be. I'm not listing or selling individual records, you take the whole thing for $300." No one ever bites, as far as I can tell.

Precisely: somebody wanting you to pay $300 to take out their trash.
posted by nanojath at 4:43 PM on June 8, 2011


This illustrates how cheap the price of information is these days. Sure, people pay a premium for timely, accurate and indexed information - this is why libraries and bookstores are so valuable. Not to mention search engines. How valuable is the Amazon/Kindle library? Or Project Gutenberg? Or Archive.org?)

If someone out there in internet-land really wanted to save this book-hoard, they could hire someone smart but underemployed like me at what amounted to McDonald's wages to spend a month or three just doing an initial sorting of the books - and they still probably wouldn't make any money back on the "investment" even if that Black Beauty was a true first print in a collectible condition.

And you'd need some basic equipment to do it right. You'd need a shipping container or two for storage and just to make enough room to sort stuff. Say $5-10K USD for one or two 40 foot containers on a one way container delivery, with the containers bought, not rented or leased. Consider about $2k for a computer workstation and solid internet connection. More if you wanted some kind of camera+software rig to scan numbers or titles automatically. Wages and expenses for living on site at around $1.5k at a bare minimum.

This isn't even including the outbuilding/shed they bought, which is likely not very well weatherproof or humidity/temp controlled. Freezing temps+air moisture is going to rapidly turn those books to mulch, and may have already ruined most or all of them.

What we need is Wall-E. A small army of archive-bots. Or a machine you can shovel whole piles of books into that'll line them up, scan them, and then sort to shelves or bins.

Robotics and machine vision are just about smart enough today that you could make an assembly line where you pour in an entire house full of hoarded crap and it could sort, scan and catalog the whole mess.
posted by loquacious at 4:47 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


They should get in touch with the good folks at Better World Books, who pay shipping for used books that they then re-sell, and who donate 100% of their net profit to charity. (Disclaimer: a good friend works @ BWB.)
posted by gauche at 4:48 PM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


They've had these books for 5 years and spent CAD$15,000 on this glorified shed they are storing them in. If they haven't managed to figure out even the basics by now, then they are kind of incompetent. Sure, 350,000 books is a lot to catalog, but they ought to have been able to catalog a few thousand by now
A few thousand books per five years means 350,000 books in over half a millennium.
posted by Flunkie at 4:48 PM on June 8, 2011


A few thousand books per five years means 350,000 books in over half a millennium.

I think the point there is that by now they would have had enough of a sample to statistically have an idea whether it was worthwhile to continue keeping them (and cataloging them, perhaps even prioritizing it due to profitability) or abandon them.
posted by chimaera at 4:51 PM on June 8, 2011


I probably would have known that had I kept reading.
posted by Flunkie at 4:58 PM on June 8, 2011


Fahrenheit 451, from the bottom up.

The Internet has destroyed the second-hand books market. Anything that could have been $5 before is almost guaranteed to be worth $0.01 now, plus shipping. I expect to see more and more of this as the years go on. There are more unsorted, poor condition secondhand books out there than several planets full of bookstore-browsing literates could ask for. Those who can sort them are losing money unloading them on Amazon for God knows what reason. Those who can't sort them... well, what's the difference between a book growing moldy and unreadable, and a book getting burnt?

What will happen to these collections? Will someone start stockpiling them? Will people with bigger houses take the collections of smaller ones? Will millions of worthless books end up filling worthless foreclosed McMansions in Florida? Or maybe they'll just get burnt.
posted by shii at 5:07 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good god, have people in Canada never heard of opening a bookstore? Geez.
posted by koeselitz at 5:17 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


shii: "The Internet has destroyed the second-hand books market."

People keep saying this ridiculous stuff as if it meant something. Yes, the Internet made the second-hand book market difficult to enter. Do you people have any idea why that happened? Because it suddenly costs too much to build up an inventory. I can name at least six used bookstores within five miles of where I live that have made it through just fine, so it's obviously possible.

Sincerely, even if you did sell these books for a dollar apiece, you're talking about a few hundred thousand dollars in profit. Open a storefront - better yet, check the zoning and open up the house you bought to keep the books in as a store - and start selling. Zero overhead. What better formula for a new business is there?
posted by koeselitz at 5:24 PM on June 8, 2011


Yeah seriously, how is this some sort weird sob story? You have 350,000 of something, you don't bother identifying anything yourself. You open your shack every weekend, let people come in and take whatever they want and you charge by weight.

People literally come to your house and give you money. It is like the most basic business plan available. Whiners.
posted by danny the boy at 5:36 PM on June 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Perhaps they could barter these books for a bunch of whale blubber to light oil lamps?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 5:37 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


check the zoning and open up the house you bought to keep the books in as a store

Sure, in the middle of nowhere, Saskatchewan.
posted by beagle at 5:40 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]



shii: "The Internet has destroyed the second-hand books market."


The internet provided me with the first edition in English of Rameau's Treatise on Harmony for $99.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:47 PM on June 8, 2011


So, yeah, I guess it did destroy the market.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:49 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe they could trade them for one red paperclip.
posted by dobbs at 5:49 PM on June 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Holy moley I wish I had the time to dig through that stuff. I'd bet I would find something rare and valuable that could pay for my whole trip.
posted by zardoz at 5:53 PM on June 8, 2011


If they had time, they could turn them into art.
posted by subdee at 5:56 PM on June 8, 2011


From the comments:
A huge thank you to everyone who responded to the radio interview with Sheila Coles and to the article on the CBC news! I am so glad all of you contacted me. Some of you missed the the interviews or only caught it in part so allow me to recap our situation.

The books were purchased aprox. 5 years ago locally from the spouse of the collector (who had recently passed away).
She did not know how to deal with the books. She tried a few things but came up empty handed. As she was attempting to sell the farm where they were located, they were burning the books. We purchased the books, but after the first load in a 72 passenger bus previously owned by the Wheatland Regional Mobile Library, it hadn't look like we had moved a book.... we realized we were in deep.
We took a personal loan, bought a house and had it moved onto the property and began moving the books in earnest. It took 9 months and we never had enough boxes (and couldn't afford to buy them). We became adept at raiding the recycle bins at restaurants throughout Saskatoon. 7000 boxes by our nearest estimation. Lots of the books that were already boxed haven't been opened in years. A question I hear a lot... What kind of books. EVERY KIND OF BOOK. It took a minimum of 3 days to pack the baseball books alone into boxes... it took 5 days for the bibles and religious texts.

Now, the CBC made us sound somewhat aimless in our bid to save the books... OH and I have to say right now!!! Please people, understand this is about preserving what we can out of a large and very interesting collection of books, books that in today's society are NOT being printed by the 100's daily because of our advancements in technology. Some of you already understand this, some of you can be made to understand this, and the rest of you who think I am just trying to get rid of, or have obtained these books for financial gain, do not have to respond further, thank you.
OF coarse some books will be sold to facilitate the preserving of the other books.
Absolutely, some of the books will be donated or given away! Some of you suggested communities that have recently lost their library's (fires in Alberta) and I believe that is a GREAT idea providing we can arrange transportation.

Okay, so here is what we have in mind....

We want to arrange a weekend where we ask volunteers to come and assist. will will create a bottle-neck where we have a table consisting of myself, my husband and various people who [comment ends]


More of Shaunnaray's replies to comments.
posted by dhartung at 5:59 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


it took 5 days for the bibles and religious texts.

That's a good place to start burning, then. And I'm not even kidding.
posted by The World Famous at 6:03 PM on June 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


But all of those baseball books would be perfect for lining the walls of a poker den.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:06 PM on June 8, 2011


Sure, in the middle of nowhere, Saskatchewan.

Nice trolling, but we're talking about Greater Saskatoon and a population of more than a quarter million.
posted by evilcolonel at 6:08 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


it took 5 days for the bibles and religious texts.

That's a good place to start burning, then. And I'm not even kidding.


Funny how you have no problem there, "Hey, i disagree with what these books say, lets burn them!" That's no different than those you hate burning things you like. It's like people who talk about free speech for their views but then try to squash others.
posted by usagizero at 6:08 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's crazy! The same thing happened when I was a student at the University of Florida. They built the library but the architect forgot to factor in the weight of the books and the whole thing started sinking.
posted by bpm140 at 6:09 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of my friends just moved back to New York after living almost a year in Greater Saskatoon, and she described it as "literally the middle of nowhere."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:13 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Funny how you have no problem there, "Hey, i disagree with what these books say, lets burn them!" That's no different than those you hate burning things you like. It's like people who talk about free speech for their views but then try to squash others.

I am a very, very religious Christian with a deep abiding faith in the Bible. Burn the bibles and religious texts. The world has plenty of them.

I'm not advocating burning all of the bibles and religious commentary in the world. Just the 5-days worth of pointless ones that have been stockpiled in this woman's transplanted shack for five years.

And, for all I care, people I hate are welcome to go to that woman's transplanted storage shack to burn all the other books I like, too. This is not a free speech issue. This is a question of finding the best way to take care of a gigantic pile of garbage that can easily be used to provide, at the very least, warmth to people's homes in a place that gets very cold in the winter.
posted by The World Famous at 6:14 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Anything that could have been $5 before is almost guaranteed to be worth $0.01 now, plus shipping.

Yep. $6.99 shipping.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:15 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't people buy books by the foot to use as decoration and interior design? That could be an interesting way to get rid of some of them.

You could have your baseball themed room filled with baseball books or whatever. They could sell them by the foot or better yet by weight.

I really think that aside from rare examples that most books are scarce and certainly not scarce enough that they need to be needlessly stockpiled. I love books their fantastic and I have many but their books not homeless animals they don't need saving.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:18 PM on June 8, 2011


It's really just a case of everyday ebay / Amazon sellers finally figuring out the old infomercial trick of throwing in "free" items, with the caveat: "Just pay separate shipping and handling."
posted by ShutterBun at 6:19 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't people buy books by the foot to use as decoration and interior design?

Yeah but people want nice looking books, or books on a theme. So they would have to sort them anyway.

I love books, but if they wanted to sell them "buy a box, we don't know what the hell is in it" style and just send me a random box, I don't think it would be worth the shipping. Books are heavy as shit.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:24 PM on June 8, 2011


It sounds like they are sorted to a degree they are somewhat sorted. From the Dhartung's comment above from the book lovers "It took a minimum of 3 days to pack the baseball books alone into boxes... it took 5 days for the bibles and religious texts."

I don't think i'd want to pay for a mystery box of books either. Any way they do it its going to take a lot of work to sort and categorize all those books.

Even if they got them all on Amazon devising a system to be able to find any given one would be a enormous job especially if their in boxes and piles.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:29 PM on June 8, 2011


The more I think about it the more it makes sense to me to run this like a huge rummage sale. Initially you charge... I don't know, $10/lb. This brings out all the collectors and dealers who are trying to find the really rare and valuable stuff. They'll do all the mining. Then you reduce the price proportionally to how many books you have left, until the least desirable books are practically free. You could probably even charge a premium for priority access. Sounds like they have rough categories in place (religious, baseball, etc). You could auction first rights to each block.

All the stuff worth saving is saved by people who know and care, all the undesirable stuff is close to free, and whatever left after that you can donate or burn. The only thing you lose by not appraising first is the windfall you were never going to be able to cash in on because you have no time to appraise.

I mean even if this whole process takes 50 years, you can take the long middle phase and turn the whole thing into a local tourist attraction (maybe even get local gov't support). Like people who go and pick their own apples: one free bag of books comes with admission to the book orchard!

Man if I had 350,000 books I would rule.

Seriously.

Whiners.
posted by danny the boy at 6:33 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The Internet has destroyed the second-hand books market."

That's the most ridiculous sentence I've seen in a while. We sold a set of Af-Am bibliographical info to a major museum on the east coast this afternoon for $395. There is no fucking way we would have sold that so quickly without the Internet.

I think what you should be saying is "The Internet has *changed* the second-hand books market. Some books that were once thought to be scarce are now understood to be much more common than was previously thought. But other books that no one knew what to do with turn out to have incredibly high demand and low print runs. The Internet has made identifying - and selling - those books almost insanely easy. Overall, access to the Internet is so obviously a huge plus to used book sellers (and I say this as someone who sells used books for a living) that it's insane to claim the net has destroyed the market. Completely insane.

Anyway, I strongly second phoebus' idea of choosing a long Thurs-Sun weekend as a HUGE LOT OF BOOKS sale and listing the date at booksalefinder.com. Tons of dealers and bedroom scanners routinely drive hundreds of miles every week to get first crack at a huge batch like this. At, say, $3 for hardbacks and $2 for paperbacks, with a $5 bag day on Sunday, the owners can rest assured a huge chunk of their books will disappear and they'll get a seriously decent chunk of change for their effort.
posted by mediareport at 6:34 PM on June 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's interesting to me that the original collector didn't have a catalog of his collection, or at least a parital catalog.
posted by not that girl at 6:34 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I strongly second phoebus' idea of choosing a long Thurs-Sun weekend as a HUGE LOT OF BOOKS sale and listing the date at booksalefinder.com. Tons of dealers and bedroom scanners routinely drive hundreds of miles every week to get first crack at a huge batch like this.

Hell, if they did it over a US holiday, I'd be tempted to fly from NYC to Saskatchewan just for the fun of it.
posted by Jahaza at 6:38 PM on June 8, 2011


Nthing the "internet has not destroyed the used book market" notion. I know a used bookseller here in town who was concerned that Vermont would pass a law requiring sales tax from online vendors (essentially Amazon) which would likely cause them to drop VT affiliates. He felt that without the Amazon option his used bookstore business would be far less viable.
posted by meinvt at 6:40 PM on June 8, 2011


Precisely: somebody wanting you to pay $300 to take out their trash.

Nope. I'd bet there are *a lot* of decent books in that collection. No guarantees, of course; some "collectors" have no idea what they're doing and collect only junk, for sure. Before driving up I'd want more info about the original owner, but if he was a professor or scientist? Hell, you can bet your ass you'll find gems. As someone who's currently going through boxes and boxes of leftover books from a local university library sale - books that were combed over by the Scanner People for days, mind - I assure you finding obscure gems in large collections like that is pretty much guaranteed. Every day I find $30-50 books from that library batch which were overlooked by the Scanner Folks because the books didn't have barcodes or were too odd and specialized for general interest sellers to know about.

Again, though: promote it as a huge sale with cheap individual prices and let the dealers and booklovers do the work for you. Guaranteed moneymaker. Gauran-fucking-teed.
posted by mediareport at 6:43 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now that this has had some publicity I'm sure something will come together.
posted by evilcolonel at 6:47 PM on June 8, 2011


Still fixated on the burning option. I realize I left out the efficiency losses of whatever method used to burn them. I also don't know, but believe, the statement that getting books to burn well is a challenge. If that could be overcome, we are probably looking at something like 100-300 books a day through heating season.

Would it be possible to get some sort of scanner/search set-up where 30 minutes a day is spent logging and posting the prospective 'burns' for the next day. That way any volumes of real volume could be identified and diverted for saving, while the vast volume were used to save money on heating and help pay off the investment. Once a few significant books are identified they would also help out.

If they can get past believing that they have a trust to salvage every volume there may even be a viable business/income opportunity here (albeit one that relies on a long and patient dedication).
posted by meinvt at 6:47 PM on June 8, 2011


Man if I had 350,000 books I would rule.

Would you take the collection off their hands if they offered it to you?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 6:49 PM on June 8, 2011


Also, wondering about the 30 tonnes pull quote aligned with 350,000 total. That only works out to an average weight of 3 ounces per book, about 20% of what I found when I pull a random sample off my shelves.
posted by meinvt at 6:51 PM on June 8, 2011


If the content of the boxes and shelves shown in the video are typical of those in the rest of the collection, it looks like there are a lot of magazines and similarly small or thing "books," which would inflate the total number of units without substantially increasing the weight figure. But she said there were 7000 books, which, at 40-50 books per box (if they're small books), puts it somewhere north of 300,000 books.

Ultimately, though, if there were many gems in the collection, I would expect them in five years to have found at least one worth mentioning to the news reporter other than the one that she says she found on the first day before she even took possession of any of the books. And where is that one, anyway? Did she sell it?

That said, if I lived within a couple hours' drive of the collection, I'd love to go dig through it for a few hours to see what I might find of interest. Hey, maybe I'd even find a bible I like!
posted by The World Famous at 7:09 PM on June 8, 2011


"thin," not "thing"
posted by The World Famous at 7:10 PM on June 8, 2011


meinvt: "Nthing the "internet has not destroyed the used book market" notion."

Yeah, I just paid probably way too much money for a book I've been trying to find for 15 years. It's a little paperback, out of print since the 70s, but was my favorite book when I was a little girl, and I wanted to re-read it, and then pass it on to another little girl who I think will treasure it as much as I would, and it was worth it *to me* to pay what I paid, even though I thought it was overpriced.

Horace Rumpole: "basically nobody who says they have a first edition or says the condition is "not that bad for how old it is" knows what the fuck they are talking about."

Oh, I beg to differ. I know exactly what I'm talking about when it comes to my collection, and when it comes to things I add to it. I know what the things I'd consider selling are worth, and to what sort of buyer. Example: I picked up a first edition, 1969 - including the now eliminated intro text - of the Satanic Bible signed by LaVey at a 1/2 price Books for less than $5.00...BECAUSE the store offered the customer a dollar for it. I was standing there and offered $5, and the lady handed to me. I sold that same book to someone who collects that sort of stuff for $1,500.00 a few days later, after I got the signature verified by an appraiser. (It helped that the dedication was to "David" and a "David" bought it...but still, point remains.) Similarly, I bought a box of mint X-man, #1-#30, signed by Jack, in mylar bags for $30....also from someone who went to a bookstore who offered pennies per issue. I went to Europe on the proceeds when I sold them at San Diego Comic Con after I got Stan to autograph them.

So yeah, I love it when booksellers take umbrage at customers who collect books, because I've purchased boxes of things worth small fortunes right out from under bookstores that were offering .10 a book because "basically nobody who says they have a first edition or says the condition is "not that bad for how old it is" knows what the fuck they are talking about."
posted by dejah420 at 7:13 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Open a storefront - better yet, check the zoning and open up the house you bought to keep the books in as a store - and start selling. Zero overhead. What better formula for a new business is there?

Nice trolling, but we're talking about Greater Saskatoon and a population of more than a quarter million.


Have you BEEN to Saskatchewan? It would take decades to sell this many books in "Greater Saskatoon." Plus, Pike Lake is a twenty-minute drive from the city... and it's not a sprawling city. There is no "Greater Saskatoon," just Saskatoon and then the countryside around Saskatoon. With no passersby, you'd only sell books to people who drove to Pike Lake specifcally to buy some. And there are nice used book stores in Saskatoon proper, so why would anyone do that?

If I were still living in Saskatchewan, I'd volunteer to help them sort. I wonder if they've tried advertising locally for bored and bookish high school students or similar....
posted by equivocator at 7:16 PM on June 8, 2011


Pruitt-Igoe: "Would you take the collection off their hands if they offered it to you?"

Delivered for free? Absolutely. If I had to transport them myself? I'd need to do the math on shipping 30 tonnes to California. They had the advantage of being local, AND they got to browse the collection first. Pretty sweet deal, for 350k pieces of something that have established values in an existing market.
posted by danny the boy at 7:17 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to guess that a large percentage of this stuff will be unsellable at any price. Worthless. What will draw people the SHORT 20 minute drive to Pike Lake, where they can spend a nice summer day in the park and then stop off hoping to find something that's not only rare, but worthwhile. So Saskatoon has used bookstores. You've already been to them and seen what they have. Here's the chance to find something that only exists because of a man's hoarding habit. (This is an assumption on my part, I admit, but I'm guessing this describes the original owner better than "collector.")

But I stand by my refutation of the description of this area as "middle of nowhere." I could have shown Miss New York lots of places that would more accurately fit that description.
posted by evilcolonel at 7:33 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, if for nothing else, at least some people are getting an appreciation for why librarians don't just keep everything.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:38 PM on June 8, 2011


I posted a book request on AskMe for suggestions on Feb 17. I didn't get any suggestions for quite a while (one comment from languagehat asked for more information, and then nothing). This was understandable. I had been googling the little-known book every once in a while for about 10 years, and there didn't seem to be much about it on the web. I had looked around in used book stores specializing in old Russian books without success. Heck, I'd spent 3.5 years living in Russia and didn't meet anyone who'd even heard of the author. I'd put it up on AskMe just to test my luck. Well, nothing happened.

Then, on June 2, there was an AskMe for book recommendations on Russia. As I have done before online and offline, I recommended my little-known book (it is available as a used book on Amazon). The person who had asked the question was intrigued by my suggestion, ran some google queries, and found a paper that mentioned the little-known book (I must have missed it somehow) and several others just like it.

An exchange of MeMails, a couple of answers in AskMe, and now my original question is marked as resolved. Many of the recommended books are available through Amazon Marketplace, and are already on their way to me.

As far as used books are concerned, the Internet is the best thing to have ever happened to them.
posted by vidur at 7:42 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


reiterate: Good insulation.

Line all of the inside walls of the house floor-to-ceiling with books. You loose %10 of your living space, and save more than that in heating costs in the Canadian winter.

What, is this crazy?
posted by ovvl at 7:45 PM on June 8, 2011


What, is this crazy?

Depends. Do you smoke or like candles?
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:46 PM on June 8, 2011


This is not a situation for Cateloguing, this is a moment for going through each box to make three piles - recycle pile, and donate to Goodwill and sell on Amazon pile, in order of biggest to smallest.

I did this with my own collection - about 12 boxes down to about 2 for Goodwill, 4 to sell to used book stores for $0.10/book (I kept them in good condition) and 6 to keep. But then, my collection was never huge, already winnowed several years ago, and I never collected books like bibles and textbooks I never intended to read. (Okay, I did have boxes of never read things, but that was from when I worked at a bookstore and was paid in books).
posted by jb at 7:46 PM on June 8, 2011


The books range from old textbooks to volumes of Shakespeare to 'How-To' manuals.

My experience with books, was working at a large thrift store and being in charge of the book dept. for a year or so.

On a busy day, I would probably take two to four 50-gallon drums of these sorts of books to the dumpster. Mixed with harlequin romances and random magazines.

Out of date how-to books and old textbooks are not really in much demand. Shakespeare depended, but lots of times after a few months, I would pull that off the shelves and get rid of it too.

If these were in my hands, I would winnow out the trash and the gems and set up sale to get rid of the rest.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 8:33 PM on June 8, 2011


psycho-alchemy: “If these were in my hands, I would winnow out the trash and the gems and set up sale to get rid of the rest.”

Actually, now that I've settled down and thought about this, I have to say that that doesn't seem like a practical thing to try to do.

It's sort of insane, actually, thinking about what 350,000 books means.

I used to work in a library that had 30,000 books. It was not a tiny library; it was a very well-curated university library, actually, and was two floors and many, many stacks. I remember once the flooring on the bottom floor had to be re-done, so we boxed and moved the ground floor books – about 20,000 volumes.

Eight of us worked full time for two weeks to pack all 20,000 books into boxes and move them out. Two weeks. And that's a tiny fraction, less than a tenth of these books. It would have taken us six months to box all 350,000 books at this house. And I'm fairly certain just boxing these books and moving them upstairs isn't going to help these folks; they'd also need to transport them.

I guess the point of my story is: we were just boxing books. We were just throwing them in cardboard boxes, trying to preserve order but mostly just packing them. Actually sorting through them, dividing them into piles, etc? That would've taken a bit longer.

I don't know. It does seem like this is a tough problem. I really would like it if the Internet Archive could do something about this, but I don't know.
posted by koeselitz at 8:48 PM on June 8, 2011


I bet there are like 5,000 copies of Marilyn's Almost Terminal New York adventure and Paul Reiser's Couplehood, same as at the Salvation Army.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:06 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd be tempted to fly from NYC to Saskatchewan just for the fun of it

From the delightful compendium, Things Which Have Never, Ever Been Typed Before, And Are Highly Unlikely To Ever Be Typed Again
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:47 PM on June 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


By Saskatchewan standards, Pike Lake is actually pretty close to Saskatoon -- 35 kilometres, or around 18 miles, close enough for a commute. It's certainly close enough to ask people from the Symphony Book Sale and the Saskatoon Public Library and University of Saskatchewan library to come out and have a look.

They don't seem to have done this, which is very odd.
posted by jrochest at 9:47 PM on June 8, 2011


I was perusing the stacks of a local bookseller last weekend, thinking to myself how sad it was that there were so many neglected works just gathering dust. And behind each of those works was an author that probably spent months or even years of hard work researching and writing, just to end up in the $0.25 bin of some indy bookseller.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:15 PM on June 8, 2011


ovvl writes "Line all of the inside walls of the house floor-to-ceiling with books. You loose %10 of your living space, and save more than that in heating costs in the Canadian winter.

"What, is this crazy?"


8" of book (packed tightly with no cavities greater than 1/2" to minimize air currents and eddies) is about the same as 2" of fiberglass. Hardly worth the effort on an R-19 wall and on an R-11 wall you'd have a problem with your vapour barrier being too deep in your assembly causing frost, ice and water damage to your wall, the books and eventually your floor.
posted by Mitheral at 10:23 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


"We want to arrange a weekend where we ask volunteers to come and assist."

Meetup!

"Would you take the collection off their hands if they offered it to you?"

I wonder how much hassle I would get trying to take them across the border.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:22 AM on June 9, 2011


I am amused by the suggestions that "even if it's $1 per book, it's a few hundred thousand dollars". Or that a simple garage sale could sell them. I see books all the time at garage sales, priced in the 10 cents to free category, and no one is buying them.
posted by smackfu at 6:20 AM on June 9, 2011


Would you take the collection off their hands if they offered it to you?

Don't do it. I've seen enough episodes of the twilight zone to know that there are some cursed books in there.

In fact, this whole thing seems like a curse.

They also fail to mention that 100,000 of those books are funk and wagnalls encyclopedias. And they are STILL missing a few volumes preventing the completion of one set!
posted by hal_c_on at 6:27 AM on June 9, 2011


Sometimes the best thing would be an "accident" where the roof collapses during a rain storm.
posted by smackfu at 6:44 AM on June 9, 2011


I love it when booksellers take umbrage at customers who collect books

That's neither an accurate characterization of what I said nor something any bookseller has ever thought, ever. Booksellers love customers who collect books. That's how they make a living. You are clearly a knowledgeable collector and book scout, who would not take a valuable item to Half Price, because you know that you won't receive its full market value there. I'm saying, the people who turn up at a general stock used book store (those that remain, anyway) with what they are convinced is a valuable first edition, are wrong about its value, drastically so, 99% of the time.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:06 AM on June 9, 2011


Just wanted to chime in agreeing with the sentiment that the internet has not hurt the used book market, just changed it drastically. I now buy more books than ever, but I have access to precisely what I want, instead of spending a day sifting through piles of meh for something that looks remotely interesting.
If you made your money re-selling mass market paperbacks, my apologies. If you have a trove of obscure contemporary artbooks, message me.
posted by Theta States at 7:12 AM on June 9, 2011


In fact, this whole thing seems like a curse.

"Take these books, but beware...they come with a terrible curse."

"That's bad."

"But they'll be delivered for free."

"That's good."

"The delivery van is also cursed."

"That's bad."

"But somewhere in the books is an original printing of Hamlet."

"That's good."

"It's the 1603 First Quarto."

"..."

"That's bad."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:18 AM on June 9, 2011 [17 favorites]


Why Mr. Bad Example's comment is hilarious.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:42 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I strongly second phoebus' idea of choosing a long Thurs-Sun weekend as a HUGE LOT OF BOOKS sale and listing the date at booksalefinder.com. Tons of dealers and bedroom scanners routinely drive hundreds of miles every week to get first crack at a huge batch like this.

I third this idea. But if the logistics of having a massive sale is too cumbersome (where will the sale be held? Do they need permits? Where will the parking area be? Portapotties? Who will sort and categorize the books? Who will carry the books from the storage area to the selling area? etc) and they aren't in a rush to sell, maybe bill this as a "vocation vacation". Unleash your inner bookseller/antiquarian while categorizing, sorting, and pricing books in the sunny, welcoming community of Saskatoon! See what is quite possibly the largest personal collection of books in Canada! Or they can do this to thin out the books for the sale. The money from the tours could go towards paying for a semi or two to transport the books to the selling location or to the charity of choice.
posted by lovelygirl at 8:25 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love this story (and not just because a copy of the book she's holding (James Herriot's Yorkshire) is sitting on the shelf next to my bed - it's a lovely book - and worth about a penny (or £55 according to some optimistic souls on Amazon) but because it's sounds like a dream come true to people like me who love books but which is, of course, in reality a bit of a nightmare. I would love to have a dig around but I would be happy just to see some more photos. Anyone?

...nor something any bookseller has ever thought, ever. Booksellers love customers who collect books. That's how they make a living.

In my experience of being on both sides of this transaction I can say that booksellers can both love and loath book collectors. I can't remember which book it is but I'm pretty sure Iain Sinclair touches on this somewhere.
posted by ntrifle at 8:26 AM on June 9, 2011


Also, this woman has kids... How old are they? Can't they help out with at least a box or two?? At least put them to work selling lemonade and cookies if you're having a potential biggest-booksale-evahhh.
posted by lovelygirl at 8:27 AM on June 9, 2011


That Sleuthing Fossils book in the video is worth a couple of bucks and the Metalsmithing one in the box next to it is worth even more.
posted by ntrifle at 8:37 AM on June 9, 2011


meinvt: "That means you could heat my house for 25 years with these books."

Problem is, paper is full of clay, which forms ash. When you've got a bunch of sheets of paper really close to each other, as in a book, the ash ends up protecting the book, smothering the fire so the insides don't burn. You've got to constantly prod the fire and scoop out the ashes to keep the damn things burning.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:11 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Problem is, paper is full of clay

That's only true of coated paper, though. Art books yes, novels no.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:25 AM on June 9, 2011


I used to burn the trash when I was a kid and phone books were really tough to burn unless you fanned the pages open. They also left a lot behind.
posted by smackfu at 11:14 AM on June 9, 2011


The news has been passed onto the Internet Archive (where I work) and the Collections people are going to see what exactly this is, if it can be acquired, etc. Feel free to explore other avenues or check other people but IA knows about it.
posted by jscott at 11:28 AM on June 9, 2011


Other reason Mr. Bad Example's comment is hilarious.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:47 AM on June 10, 2011


This thread inspired me to get moving on getting rid of some books. Sorted into 4 piles (wth research): 1) Sell on Amazon 2) Sell on Amazon 3)Donate and 4) Trash. Spent a few hours doing it and got rid of about 40-50 (out of roughly 825) and still don't really have any room on my shelves. (825 is a lot when you keep almost all of them all in one NYC bedroom.)
posted by Jahaza at 11:46 AM on June 10, 2011


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