(Google file photo.)

Every inch of shelving in the small office occupied by the Friends of the Ewing Library is lined with labeled upside-down box tops filled with books: mysteries, crafts, romances.
“Very organized” is the descriptor offered for this dedicated group of volunteers by Jacquelynne Huff, manager since 1989 of the Ewing Branch of the Mercer County Library, which is where the group’s office is located.

Their meticulous attention to detail extends beyond book storage and categorization to their ongoing book mart, holiday boutique and three annual book sales in May, September and January.

The Friends will be holding its Spring Fling Book Sale and Flea Market on Thursday, May 17, 4 to 8 p.m.; Friday, May 18, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Saturday, May 19, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Preview sale for Friends members, Thursday, May 17, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. People can join the organization at the door and qualify for admission to the members-only preview sale.

The Friends of the Ewing Library will be celebrating its 25th year this August.

Jack McCullough, a professor of theater and communications at Trenton State College, founded the group in 1991 shortly after his retirement and served as its first president.

“He felt that local libraries are important for the community, and it is important for the community to be involved,” says his daughter, Rose Riccio, vice president of programming and organizer of the flea market. Her father was active in the Friends until he suffered a stroke in February.

The Friends, Huff says, was formed to “provide the library with things not normally provided in the library budget; the little extras, materials, promoting the library in the community.”

Huff says that the sales support adult and children’s programming, including the summer reading programs, screening of relatively current films and seminars attended by library staff.

The Friends also paid for the large-screen television and surround-sound system used for Sunday movies and support the museum passes program.

The first book sale in November 1992 raised $1,257. Back then the small library did not have the space to store books, so they were stacked in members’ basements and garages and brought to the library the night before the sale—and that’s when they were sorted.

Today each of the big book sales are three-day events, preceded by many sacks and boxes of book donations, and hours upon hours of sorting. The volume of donated books requires three separate rooms in the library. “We have a multiplicity of every kind of book you could possibly want to look for,” Friends president Linda Lengyel says.

Fiction takes the lead in numbers of donations, followed by adult fiction and healthy numbers of romance, mystery, and science fiction. Adult nonfiction covers areas like do-it-yourself, both in the health and fix-it domains; public interest; coffee table books and other unusual items; “a nice selection of religion and travel”; and lots of cookbooks. “It always amazes us how many cookbooks are out there that people either used or bought and did not use,” Lengyel says.

Book sale volunteer coordinator Anne Chmielewski met a retiring teacher at a water aerobics class at the Ewing Senior and Community Center and told her about the Friends group. The woman donated an extensive collection of Holocaust books, and another woman bought the whole collection for her synagogue. Materials from retiring teachers are also helpful to people who home school their children.

People often donate book collections, like trains, or military items, or baseball. And professors from local universities donate textbooks and others. “They are usually very cultured people and have a wide variety of well-written, well-researched books,” Chmielewski says.

Chmielewski says she has gotten to know each and every volunteer on a first-name basis. “I’ve learned what they can do and can’t do, what they like and don’t like. I am the magician behind the scenes matching people up to do different kinds of work.”

Book sale pricing is $2 for red dots (with copyrights from 2014 or 2015), $1 for other hardbacks. Paperbacks are 50 cents or three for $1. For coffee table books, often related to the arts, or other rare finds, Lengyel says that books are “individually priced based on their approximated value as a used book.” They also have CDs, DVDs, Blue-Rays, Books-on-CD as well as books, puzzles, and games for children and young adults. Children’s books are three for $1. On Saturday, a grocery bag full of books is only $5.00, with free leftover books for non-profit community groups.

A continuing book mart is open every day the library is open. Gold mark books, with copyrights from 2016-18 are $3; red dots are $2, the rest of the hardbacks are are $1, and all paperbacks are 50 cents. Sometimes the Friends offer special deals in the book mart when they have an overstock. A boutique in the book mart starts the first Sunday of December and runs throughout the month.

In May 2011 the Friends enlarged the book mart, with new shelves built by Jack McCullough and Steven Townsend, which added thousands of dollars to their total yearly book sales.

Another important part of the Friends fundraising is the flea market. Riccio traces to a donated saxophone that her dad priced at a local music store. When the saxophone’s donor was figuring out what to do with it, Riccio says, “I don’t know why they thought of the library.” But it started a great addition to their fundraising activities.

“Sometimes it amazes me what people bring to the library,” Riccio says. Just off the top of her head, she lists: books from the 1600s, “usually primers that a collector would want”; old family bibles; a four-foot glass penguin (the first thing Riccio ever appraised—by looking it up online); a handmade accordion imported from Italy, with a velvet-lined case and a music stand; and many “nice stuffed animals” (which the Friends will accept as long as they are in good condition and clean), and autographed volumes, like a recent one signed by Janet Evanovich.

Another unusual item that has been donated over the years is depression glass. During the depression, Chmielewski explains, movie theaters would give out items to patrons like a yellow pressed-glass sugar bowl to express appreciation to their patrons. “It comes in all different colors, and people collect different patterns and different pieces,” she says.
Once they had an impressive porcelain bust of a woman made by Cybis Porcelains of Trenton. “It was gone so fast I never even got a picture of it,” Riccio says.

A huge cheerleader for the library, Chmielewski loves watching community people use the library in so many ways. She notes especially the importance of providing computers for community members who can’t afford their own. If a student is required to submit an electronic version of a book report, she says, “they can type it up on a computer here and print it out and be on equal footing with other students, even though they may not have resources at home.”

She also enjoys directing people she meets in the community toward their library. “When people say, What about this? What about that? I say, Go to the library. Your computer is down at home and you want to look at something on the net, go to the library. If you have grandkids, hey, there’s a cool program going on.”

Chmielewski sometimes creates her own programs or jumps into an existing one. Using seedlings from the Department of Environmental Protection’s state nursery that are distributed for Arbor Day, she sets up a card table in front of the library so that she can hand out these baby trees to children.

“What we feel is the nicest thing about our group is that we really serve as a community conduit,” Lengyel says. “Not only are we able to provide activities for children and adults throughout the year, but our book sales also generate at least 65 volunteers who come over a three-day period to work at the book sales.”

The sales are “a warm community event,” Lengyel explains, both for the friends, who have been working together for many years, but also for members of the community.

They “are not only getting bargain prices for books they enjoy, but they are meeting their neighbors and friends, some who they haven’t seen for a while.”

Marilyn Bird is currently treasurer of the Friends and also handles membership. Jack’s son, Sean McCullough, also helps out with many aspects of the sales.

Longtime secretary Mary McCullough has been memorialized with a tree planted outside the children’s classroom, and a bench nearby was dedicated in memory of Bob Gottlieb, the Friends historian and an active volunteer in sorting and working at the book sales.

About the book sales and flea markets, Chmielewski concludes, “This is the best form of recycling you could ever have. People don’t want to throw things out; they want them to go to a good cause.” The Friends sales facilitate this kind of exchange, and even better, she adds, “We have lots of people who get books from the book sale, read them, and bring them back.”