Buy a Book, Help a Student

by Josephine Kim | 4/3/19 2:05am

by Novi Zhukovsky / The Dartmouth

What are the “keys to life”? If you are a fan of Will Smith, you may have come across his inspirational 2005 Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards speech in the past. He shared with his young audience, “The keys to life are running and reading.” Why? If you want to hear his insightful (and comedic) explanation, look it up. 

If you want to follow up on his advice, go to the Five Colleges Book Sale at Lebanon High School the weekend of April 21. This sale is now located just beyond the scope of the Dartmouth bubble, but its first sale actually took place in our very own Collis Center. There are usually 35 to 40 thousand books for sale in all fields. 

Founded in 1962, this annual spring event is a flower in our local community. As one of the largest sales of old books in New England, it attracts bibliophiles from all over, even those out-of-state. Best of all, sale profits go towards funding scholarships for Vermont and New Hampshire students at five colleges, Mount Holyoke, Simmons, Smith, Wellesley and Vassar. 

Sarah Biggs, one of the co-organizers of the event, first got involved several years ago when a friend of hers invited her to sort books one Saturday as a volunteer. 

“I have been hooked ever since,” she said. “You know, book lovers ... love to see what’s out there, what are the trends in reading. It’s just a great opportunity to see what there is.” 

For some supporters, this book sale is a way to get more books into the community and create the means for people to donate books, but especially to provide books for those who love to read. For others, it is also a way to raise scholarship funds. And it even serves as a sort of reunion amongst both good acquaintances and long-lasting friends. 

As for the flow and atmosphere of this event, Biggs said that the book sale “takes a life of its own.” “It’s almost like it knows how to run itself because so many [volunteers] have been involved for so long ... there is a magical quality to it,” she said. 

However magical, the local community and dedicated volunteers had to fight through some trying years for the book to exist. Nancy Dean, one of the founding members of the book sale, shares that one year, she single-handedly earned $5,000 of scholarship money on her alma mater’s assigned volunteer day because of slim participation. At 91-years-old now, Dean is still working at the book sale, overseeing and filling in any gaps. 

“It has been fun,” she said. “I would miss it if I didn’t do it.” 

Karen Wolfe, a Wellesley alumna and a past co-chair of the book sale, says that around the 50th anniversary of the book sale they had to put a notice in the Valley News explaining that due to a need for volunteers, that year may be the last book sale. In response, she described a huge outcry from the community.

“[People responded,] ‘What! This book sale cannot go away.’ And we got a whole bunch of volunteers ... We dispelled the myth that you had to be a graduate of one of the ‘five colleges’ to work at the sale,” said Wolfe. 

Dean also shared her optimism about the future of the book sale. 

“I think we’ve picked up strength again, and we’re on an upswing,” she said.  

Then I asked Dean what makes this book sale so special, she responded, “It’s fun seeing people bursting through the doors [on] day of the sale. One builds good acquaintances, if not long-lasting friendships by working on the sale year after year, and being a part of its history.” 

So, fellow Dartmouth students, why don’t we holler in the Spring by freshening up our weekly routine? Let’s show some love to our local community by checking out this magical and well-oiled 58-year-old “pop-up” book sale. The “keys to life” are there, in mint condition, at excellent prices and all for a furthering the higher education dreams of students like ourselves.