Event Spotlight: The 52nd Annual Big Book Sale Is A Treasure Hunt For Book Lovers

Sorting through the Annual Big Book Sale's 500,000 books. Photo courtesy of Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.
By Shoshi Parks - Published on September 17, 2016.

Every fall since 1964, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library organizes around 500,000 donations of books and media into 75 categories for their annual Big Book Sale at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center.

The fifty-second such annual event will run from 10am to 6pm from September 21st to 25th. Fresh stock is put out overnight and “it can look like a different sale from day to day,” says Katherine Jardine, Communications Manager at Friends of the SFPL. “You don’t want to go looking for that one specific thing.”

The Big Book Sale is as much a treasure hunt as a trip to the bookstore. Friends of the SFPL staff and volunteers try to keep up with sorting the materials coming through their donation center in Potrero Hill but often they don’t even know what all of the items headed to the Big Book Sale are. “There’s a great chance that some of the items are pretty valuable,” says Jardine.

Indeed, in true Charlie and the Chocolate Factory golden-ticket form, one sale goer will find more than just a good read. Each day organizers place a gift certificate inside a book, releasing clues on their social media pages (@friendssfpl) to help hunters find the prize. In past years restaurants like NOPA and Delfina, cultural institutions like the ballet and symphony and local museums have provided gift certificates.

The largest used book sale on the West Coast, paperback and hardcover books, LPs and audiobooks at the Big Book Sale are all priced between $1 and $3. A separate booth offers pricier rare and collectible books, including signed and out-of-print editions, that range from around $20 to $200.

Jardine acknowledges that the sale can be a bit overwhelming and Friends of the SFPL provides a map of the sale categories both at the event and ahead of time online to help shoppers navigate.

On Sunday September 25, the last day of the sale, all items drop to $1 (with the exception of the rare book booth). Those who sign up as members of Friends of the SFPL at the sale will receive a $30 coupon to purchase books and media.

The quarter of a million dollars earned from the Big Book Sale will go towards supporting learning and literacy programs at the San Francisco Public Library enabling the library “to do nimble and flexible programming.”

“Every month we fund hundreds and hundreds of programs that happen in the branches — yoga classes, cooking classes, resume building — activities for the diverse community of San Francisco,” Jardine explains.

Friends of the SFPL is also responsible for the summer reading program “Summer Stride,” the Tricycle Music Fest, One City, One Book, the digital teen learning center The Mix, the Effie Lee Morris Lecture series and other city-wide events.

Despite the popularity of digital reading and entertainment, over half a century since its launch the Big Book Sale is still a major draw for book lovers and booksellers from around the Bay Area, the state and the country “It’s amazing to see the community come together,” Jardine says. “It’s a testament to the love of the physical book.”  

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