Volunteers Unite to Support Library through Marsha's Friendshop
Above: Lanette Van Wagenen flips through one of the many children's picture books available at Marsha's Friendshop.
Lanette Van Wagenen discovers a new world every time she opens a cardboard box filled with donated books. As a volunteer at the East Lansing Public Library, her goal is to make that world available to others through a popular venue just inside the Library's doors.
Van Wagenen is the co-chair and one of about twenty volunteers who stock, sort and sell used books through Marsha's Friendshop. Housed in a dedicated space since October 2016—complete with a welcoming entrance—the Library's Friendshop sells thousands of used hardbacks, paperbacks, music, movies, audiobooks and more. Proceeds approach several thousand dollars a month, and go 100 percent to support community programming and services identified by the Library and the volunteer board Friends of the Library.
"Our basic goal is to make money for the library," says Van Wagenen. "But even more, the Friendshop is a way we can get beautiful books out and into the hands of people who love them."
More than sentimental value
Visitors to the Friendshop immediately encounter four rows of 6-foot tall shelves filled top to bottom with fiction and non-fiction. Volunteers carefully arrange books into categories, ensuring curated selections of classics, mystery, science fiction, science, biography, history, religion, psychology, self-help, business, art, photography, and music.
Browsers and buyers can also find books on gardening, crafts, cooking and more. Young adult fiction and some graphic novels account for a sizeable chunk of inventory, while children's literature and picture books fill carts and end caps. Mass-market paperbacks are displayed on mobile carts outside the shop, inviting patrons to buy some light reading before venturing into the stacks.
Media and music lovers will find bins of CDs, DVDs and audio books. Artwork by locals is also available for sale, with many of the works drawn from unclaimed or donated pieces from the library's previous art rental program. Some of the pieces, says Van Wagenen, carry colorful histories uncovered by Friendshop volunteer researchers.
"We found the son of one of the artists through Facebook search," says Van Wagenen of a particular piece. "We notified him about his mother's artwork and asked if he wanted it. He came and actually bought it, and then took it home since his mother had passed away."
Van Wagenen says robust donations and sales drive the perpetual rotation of inventory. Some volunteers commit more than ten hours a week to sorting the up to 100 donations that Van Wagenen says come daily. Other volunteers are committed to assessing the value of books through internet research.
Books are priced in a flat rate system. Mass-market paperbacks sell for 25 cents each, while trade paperback fiction, romance and sci-fi go for 50 cents. The majority of hard cover fiction goes for $1 while hard cover novels published within the current year sell for $3. Music CDs carry a price of 50 cents, and audio books $1.50. More unusual books, collections or collectibles are typically priced at half of what a comparable book would go for in a used bookstore, or through Amazon or eBay.
"What inspires me about Friendshop is being able to offer this kind of value to readers," says Van Wagenen. "You can't beat it."
Above: a glimpse at the merchandise through the entrance to Marsha's Friendshop at the East Lansing Public Library.
Stories well told
While the Friendshop motivates Van Wagenen to volunteer time and again, other new and long-time volunteers have been similarly inspired, including the Friendshop's namesake.
Marsha Bristor volunteered to help with Library's used book sales in their earliest days, and was among the key players in the evolution of the Friendshop. For her dedication to the cause, the Library named the Friendshop in her honor when she retired in 2016.
Bristor says she first learned about the Library's used book sales back in 1992. At that time, she was working in a design studio and needed a few interesting books to fill the studio's shelves. She had heard the Library had recently begun selling used books, and found what she needed on a folding table filled with good quality books that sold for 10 cents apiece.
"When I became a mom shortly after that, I saw how much the library did for the community and all the wonderful programming they offered," Bristor says. "I loved what I saw, and wanted to do something to help support that programming."
Bristor joined the Friends of the Library and devoted her time to building and organizing Friendshop. She applied her design and business skills to promote the venue, and soon began volunteering countless hours, sometimes with her children in tow. She created a business model, established pricing systems based on researched book values, and developed a shelving and volume management system. Many referred to her as a “silent leader” whose talents contributed to the tens of thousands of dollars garnered annually through the Friendshop and related fundraisers.
"She was the perfect person because of her background in promotions," says Joan Fairey, co-coordinator of the Friendshop and volunteer with the Library since the late 1980s. "She got the rest of us to realize the Friendshop was all about selling and arranging things in a fresh and interesting way. She has a real talent."
Fairey and Bristor frequently worked together to champion used book sales through the Friendshop. Part of it, they agreed, was to ensure the Library was a good steward of the gifts they received.
"We have a strong book reading community in East Lansing," says Fairey. "And when our community donates, they donate worthwhile and good books."
Bristor agrees about the quality of books that have found their way to the Friendshop and back into reader's hands over the years—including a rare signed copy of E.B. White's "One Man's Meat."
"There are so many treasures that have appeared on the shelves," says Bristor. "For us, it was all about finding that fine balance of finding a price that benefits the library and also keeps customers happy by not being too expensive. We always want to keep the Friendshop accessible."
Both Bristor and Fairey are recipients of the East Lansing Crystal Award for their volunteer work with the East Lansing Public Library. Bristor was recognized for her outstanding contributions to community life in 2012, and Fairey in 2015. The Friends of the Library also received a Crystal Award in 2003.
"I was honored to receive the Crystal Award, but it's really all about our library," says Bristor. "Our library is truly the heart of this community."
Marsha's Friendshop is open during regular library hours. Anyone from any community is invited to browse, buy from the shop, or donate. Gift certificates are also available. For more information about visiting or donating to the Friendshop at the East Lansing Public Library, click here.