Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to the bi-annual American Association of University Women Midland Branch Used Book Sale. Within the span of a month, members of AAUW collect thousands of books and materials from the community, thoroughly sort through them and set up a three-day sale in the middle of the Midland Mall.

“We’ve got something for everybody. People who like good old classics and fiction and mysteries, and lots and lots of suspense,” stated Pauline Pittsley, who has been involved with the book sale for 30 years.

AAUW used book sales have been a community staple since 1948 when it was first held at the country club as a modest fundraiser. In the 69 years since its inception, the sale has been held at various locations around Midland, including the Greater Midland Community Center, a vacant storefront on Main Street and the Circle Mall before coming to the atrium of the Midland Mall.

But it’s not just the sale that occurs at the shopping center. A month prior to the sale, volunteers and organizers make daily trips from the local donation barrels around town to an empty storefront inside the mall where the books are sorted and priced.

“It’s turned out to be very fine-tuned,” said Chris Ferrando, an AAUW member since 1972.

The first step is to pre-sort books by quality and then publishing dates. Any material that is damaged, yellowed with age, has excessive markings on the pages or outdated information is either thrown out or set aside to be given to Goodwill. The main goal for the pre-sort process is to ensure that all the books and materials that are to be sold are high quality – a little worn, perhaps, but still sturdy and readable.

“Not everybody sorts,” Pittsley explained. “We have some members who couldn’t throw a book away if their life depended on it. … By having a small group – there’s about six of us who do the pre-sort – we’re more consistent.”

At times there are a couple of people who have too many books to fit into the donation barrels and have to come directly to the storage area to drop them off.

“Sometimes people will call us and say ‘I’ve got 10, 20 boxes of books.’ It’s too much to put in a barrel and we’re really glad that they call us.”

This autumn sale also marked the first time that Barnes & Noble donated to the AAUW’s sale. The bookstore, located only yards away, generously donated two carts and 15 boxes of bargain books. The bookstore contributions offer the ideal touchstone to measure the quality of the used books; neatly stacked side by side, there is little or no visible difference between the two types of books.

“We have dealers that come from around the state to buy books and they tell us that we have one of the cleanest sales,” Pittsley said.

The only kind of novels that have a bit more wear are located at what some AAUW members call “the gem table.” There are unique classics as well as books that could be used for craft projects.

“We like to save everything. We like to save books. You can do so many things with them,” commented Carol Arnosky, who is in charge of the vintage books.

Once the pre-sorting is completed, the materials are categorized into classifications such as hard cover, soft cover and recent releases before being packed by genre and are then priced accordingly. Typically, books range between 25 cents and $6. Volunteers work six days a week between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. until everything is packed securely in banana or berry boxes. By the time of the sale, AAUW has processed an estimated 10,000 books and nontraditional items such as games, puzzles, records, CDs and DVDs.

The night before the sale, members of AAUW and the Exchange Club arrived as the mall doors were locked and got to work. This year they began setting up a little early due to the large amount of donations, especially of children’s books.

“Every now and then you get a surge of a certain category,” stated Pittsley. “A couple years ago we had a gentleman that was moving and he invited us to come and take his collection of hardcover suspense. And there were boxes and boxes and boxes of them. So we’re never quite sure what we’re going to get.”

For an hour and a half, members of both AAUW and the Exchange Club transported an average of 250 banana boxes half the length of the mall and arranged everything in the central hub. Every load was directed effectively and orderly, guided by several diagrams, including one depicting where certain types of books are laid out, one where to find the empty boxes and supplies under the display tables and a third detailing the areas of the storage room and when each group of containers are supposed to be sent out.

It all lead up to Friday morning when the sale officially opened. For Pittsley, it’s her favorite part of the event, watching people slowly come and line up along the outskirts of the atrium, held back only by a thin ribbon of red tape.

“About 10 minutes to 9 a.m. people start arriving. They’re all the way around, peaking over the corners to see what’s what.”

And what goes better with a book than a bookmark? Whenever a customer makes a purchase, they are given a thin strip of cardstock with the dates of the next sale as well as contact information for AAUW.

“People count on that. About 10 years ago we did a survey of our customers asking how did they know about our sale. A majority of them said it was because of the bookmarks,” Pittsley said.

Sale Coordinator Trudy Dutot estimates that profits reach $10,000 for each sale. Once the expenses such as rent, advertisements and supplies are covered, the remaining funds are given to scholarships and events hosted by AAUW. Unused books are given to Midland organizations and libraries across the state. Local AAUW members take pride in knowing that they are promoting knowledge through the purchase of books as well as the activities funded by the sale.

“We see this as a service to the community, too,” Pittsley said. “We’re raising money for scholarships, but we really do believe it’s a service to the community. We’re recycling books.”

The AAUW Used Book Sale continues today at the Midland Mall from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday is Bag Day, when a bag full of books is $10. To donate books for future sales, contact Pittsley at 989-430-2067 or Dutot at 989-600-1433. For more information about AAUW, visit midland-mi.aauw.net, email aauwmidland@gmail.com or Facebook search AAUW-Midland.