Friends Used Bookstores offer cheap books, fund libraries


Friends Used Bookstore volunteers Kathy Robbins and Diane Miller at the Ramsey County Library in Roseville. (Solomon Gustavo photos)

Peggy Biernat and Anne Ingle, volunteers at the Friends Used Bookstores location at the Ramsey County Library in Shoreview, in the storage room where they sort items into categories.

A tax-funded, free public library system is a social treasure that’s easy to take for granted. 

But a free exchange of books, magazines and movies, of knowledge and culture, and a space to study, is a true wonder that enriches individual lives and whole communities.

The Ramsey County Library system has done that for cities including Shoreview, Maplewood, Mounds View and Roseville, investing in large buildings, comfortable spaces, state of-the-art technology and events for children, families and adult readers. 

Those locations also feature Friends Used Bookstores, which sell used books for cheap. Prices vary depending on the location — they’re all entirely volunteer-run — but hardcover books are typically $1 and paperbacks are 50 cents. 

Customers pay by dropping money into an honor box. The Friends bookstores raised nearly $70,000 dollars last year. 

They also sell DVDs and CDs. Items come from donations or the library, which discontinues items that are no longer checked out or are too old.

“It’s almost like pure recycling,” says Shoreview volunteer Peggy Biernat. 

If books or other items don’t sell at the store, the Friends give them to the Ramsey County Jail, community organizations that help the homeless and domestic abuse victims, daycares and schools. 

 

With a little help from the Friends 

The Friends of the Ramsey County Library runs the bookstores. It’s a nonprofit with a board of directors that partners with Ramsey County Libraries and started as a group of neighbors trying to save their libraries 40 years ago.

In 1979, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners was discussing cutting funding to the library system. 

“A community group formed to really encourage commissioners to rethink their plan,” says Friends director Cyndi Cook. The group swayed the commissioners, saving a big chunk of the library budget.

To ensure the libraries continued to have money, the group began fundraising by selling used books at different county locations.

The group found success with the sales, but didn’t stop there. As the organization grew into a full-fledged nonprofit, it also held fundraising efforts like an annual gala and a 5K race.

In all, says Cook, the Friends contributed more than $179,000 to the Ramsey County Library system last year. The bookstores themselves hardly cost anything to run — the low overhead is maintained through donations and volunteers. 

 

Helping, sorting hands

Biernat and Anne Ingle, both in their mid-60s, became volunteers at the Friends Used Bookstore at the Shoreview Library because they needed something to do. 

Biernat, a retired teacher who lives in Shoreview, was visiting the library in 2013 when she came upon the bookstore. She perused the sections, made her selection and approached a librarian to make her purchase. 

The librarian pointed to the honor box, which amused Biernat, and she asked to learn more. After learning the Friends were looking for volunteers, she signed up and hasn’t looked back. 

“I love the people,” says Biernat, calling the library staff and customers who visit the used bookstore “lovely.”

Volunteers process books coming in, only keeping items that are in good enough shape. If a particularly valuable or rare book is found in a Friends donation, the nonprofit will give it to the library so more people can check it out and enjoy it.

Books that are kept to be sold are sorted into categories. Friends book stores offer a wide range of reading, from literary classics to philosophy, contemporary fiction to textbooks, and every kind of children’s and young adult book. A customer can find a best-selling novel or collection from a titan of poetry in good condition for a dollar or less.

In Shoreview, Ingle primarily organizes inventory in storage, while Biernat focuses on setting up the store area. The two head in to do spot work whenever they have a free hour or two. 

Kathy Robbins, a 69-year-old retired librarian, says she was drawn to volunteer and joined the Roseville Friends Used Bookstore a decade ago.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the Ramsey County Library in Roseville was the busiest library in the state in 2018. That traffic was felt in the used bookstore as well — that same year, the Roseville Friends store brought in more than $30,000. 

“All my life I’ve loved books,” says 81-year-old Diane Miller, who also volunteers at the Roseville store and lives in the city. 

She says originally the Friends bookstore in Roseville was a small space, and that storage was kept downstairs. When the library was renovated in 2010, space for the Friends was made a focal point. 

Each of the Friends Used Bookstores are located just inside of the doors of each of their Ramsey County Library locations and share the hours of their library branches.

The Ramsey County libraries in Maplewood, Shoreview and Roseville are open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The Ramsey County Library in Mounds View is open 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and is closed Tuesday and Sunday. 

 

–Solomon Gustavo can be reached at roseville@lillienews.com.

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