“Have you ever volunteered with us in the past? Have you ever worked in a library before? Shelved books before?” – Dennis

“No…no…no.” – Me

“Are you familiar with how the system works?” – Dennis (face showing he is getting a little concerned)

“I have read a few books and been in a library before…” – Me (sarcastic smile that drew a laugh)

How hard could it be? You pick up the book and put it in the right place. Those were my thoughts going into shelving books with Books for America. Books for America is a non-profit organization that donates new and used books and other forms of educational media to disadvantaged organizations and schools. They have now awarded grants of 1 million books to schools, shelters, and many other educational programs and organizations. I was working in the store front property where they sell some of the donated books to essentially “keep the lights on” for the warehouse where they award most of the grants to local teachers and others in the area who don’t have the means to provide books for their classrooms, students, etc.

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Dennis working hard. He said I didn’t do too bad for a non-librarian.

Little did I know, I would have to work my way up to shelving…a job reserved for the veterans and former librarians at Books for America. Dennis pegged me as an organizer when I walked in for my first day of volunteering. My series of “no” responses left me in the history section trying to fix the mistakes of the previous non-librarians Dennis had sent up to the majors too early. That was fine. I was determined to work my way up.

My confidence was sky-high going in. It had certainly been some time since I was rummaging libraries for books on a weekly basis, but I had been in my fair share of libraries. The reorganization of the history section should be a breeze. Well…the history section was a mess. After a few minutes in the history section, I learned they simply didn’t have the staffing capacity to keep all of the books in order in the store. I also now understood why Dennis had me organizing…every bit of history knowledge I had ever learned was tested. I struggled with questions such as “Is a book on Theodore Roosevelt considered after 1900 or before?” Even the alphabetization was testing. I must have recited the alphabet in my head at least 100 times that morning.

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Still a LOT of books that need to be shelved…

My time ran out with half the section to still complete, so I promised Dennis I’d be back to finish what I started. Good to my word, the next day I was back at it again and moving at a good clip. Feeling pretty good after moving through the rest of the history section, Dennis moved me to organizing what I called the “ology” section. It was broken down into different categories such as Sociology, Psychology, Anthology, etc. No previous 5th grade history classes could have prepared me for that section. I worked my way through that section (much smaller) and headed out for the day. Still convinced I had what it took to be a shelver, I knew I’d make a return one more day.

My final day in the store, I was promoted! I would be shelving the new books that had come in…there were a LOT of them. Dennis gave me the rundown of all the sections and I was off. My pace was slow, and there were easily more books coming in through donation drop-offs than I could reasonably shelve. Books for America has a good problem with a number of people who are willing to donate books! Each day I was in there at least 3 people came in with a box of books to donate. It was hard to leave my last day there with so many boxes that still needed to be shelved as I knew this was an organization that was providing a great need.

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Every child deserves the opportunity to have a book to read…at their storefront, all children’s books were free.

Books for America taught me I still have a lot to learn about the vast array of books that are available to read and reminded me of my youth days when I went to the libraries constantly during the summer to participate in the summer reading program where I received prizes for reading. Blessed to have books scattered throughout my house growing up, I was also reminded that not all have this opportunity to own their own books or have them easily attainable. If you happen to have some books sitting in boxes or on shelves in your home, consider finding a local non-profit like Books for America that will help put them to good use!

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