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The annual Friends of the St. Mary’s County Library Book Sale will be held at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds in Leonardtown on March 14 from 1 to 8 p.m. for Friends members only, with membership available at the door. The sale will be open to the public March 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 16 from noon to 3 p.m. Items may be purchased for cash or checks only. An ATM will be on site.

To volunteer

Volunteers for the annual Friends of the St. Mary’s County Library Book Sale are welcome year round but are especially needed in the coming week, when the books will be moved from the Leonardtown library to the fairgrounds and then set up in the appropriate building and location. Volunteers are also needed during and after the sale. Students may also volunteer to earn community service hours.

Call 301-863-9368 or email stmarysfol@gmail. Volunteers can also just show up at the fairgrounds next week and look for someone with a brightly colored, numbered name tag for directions.

Every year, the number of donations has gone up.

“Isn’t it wonderful? People are so generous,” said Alice Dougherty of Town Creek, chair of this year’s annual Friends of the Library book sale, as she took a break from her work sorting donations and looked over the stacks and stacks of boxes filled with already sorted books. The boxes, organized into columns nine high and six deep in the back room of the Leonardtown library, have been collected throughout the year in preparation for the annual three-day book sale, set for March 14 to 16 at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds.

“We’ve got to have tons this year,” said Carole Barlow of Hollywood, a member of the book sale committee.

“A gazillion,” Dougherty agreed.

Barlow, Dougherty and others speculated about the every-increasing number of donations. Some have suggested that the numbers are up so much because people are embracing e-books and emptying their shelves of traditional books. Barlow pointed out that St. Mary’s always has a lot of people moving in and out who don’t want to take books with them. She referred to one man who was retiring and moving out of the area who brought in 2,000 books for the sale this year.

The Polar Vortex and unusually cold temperatures this winter may have also aided the sale, Dougherty speculated. “With all that indoor time, people are cleaning out,” she said.

In addition, both Barlow and Dougherty said that the book sale to benefit the library has become a kind of county tradition at this point. Now in its 22nd year, they think that more people donate to the sale just because it is so well known.

“People seem to really like the sale,” said Sara Fisher of Leonardtown, another committee member working last week. “They trust that the books will be used … They trust the library.”

Fisher’s particular job is to research the more rare and unusual books that are donated — historic books, signed editions, those with unusual valuable books. Some are sold privately, some are donated to museums.

“We have found some really cool stuff,” Fisher said.

One of Fisher’s favorite finds was a small, first-edition copy of a mid-19th century book illustrated by Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai, which was given to the Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian.

Even with this sifting process, many special books make it to the sale tables at the fairgrounds. For instance, at this year’s event, there will be a Depression-era edition of a “Fortune” magazine, a signed copy of Tom Clancy’s “Hunt for Red October” and the book “Sina” in German, by Johanna Spyri, who wrote “Heidi.”

Musty, moldy and smoke-damaged donations are set aside for recycling. They are not mixed with the other books or included in the sale.

While rare and unusual books can be priced higher, most hardbacks are sold for $2 each, trade books for $1 and paperbacks for 50 cents. Books that aren’t sold during the three-day sale are donated to Rotary International. The sale also includes audiobooks, puzzles, games and LPs.

The annual book sale has been lucrative, allowing the Friends of the Library to raise close to $325,000 during the past two decades for the St. Mary’s County Library. In the early years of the sale, those funds went to buy materials for the library. “Now, the funds are used for items not covered by the budget,” said Marilyn Lash, publicity specialist with the library, in an email. “Each branch determines how to spend their donations.”

However well entrenched the book sale is in list of must-attend events in St. Mary’s, there are concerns about what happens after this year’s sale is finished.

Currently, donations are sorted and stored in a long, 1,500-square-foot room in the back of the Leonardtown library. The library’s building was once a National Guard armory. And the donation room was once the armory’s indoor shooting range. It is unheated, but the room serves the purpose, providing a safe, staffed, centrally located building year-round where people can drop off donations and large numbers of donations can be stored.

But the Leonardtown library is slated to undergo renovations this year. The approximately $3.2 million project will include work to enlarge some spaces in the library.

Those renovations will mark the end of the Friends’ donation room. That space is slated to become the library’s children’s area. So, the Friends of the St. Mary’s County Library has to find another space if it wants to continue its annual sale.

The group is already looking for an alternate space.

“It will be a main focus of the Friends this year,” Dougherty said.

The group would like something centrally located in the county, without stairs and with access to a bathroom ... and heat would be nice, the committee members said, laughing.

In addition, the Friends continues to look for additional members and for book sale volunteers. If a new donation space is found for the Friends this year, and moved from the Leonardtown library where the donation room can be open whenever the library is open, even more volunteers will be needed to staff the new space during regular hours.

scraton@somdnews.com