Where does a Beverly Hills book lover turn when local indie book sellers just can't seem to survive today's changing consumer habits or the economic climate? Well it may not have one hundred copies of the most recent best sellers like the giants do but the Friends Book Shop—located inside the —is a treasure trove for bookworms, bargain hunters and last but not least—benefactors.
Perusing the Friends Book Shop's floor-to-ceiling shelves of gently used books for my catch o' the day definitely brings out the huntress in me. But in my latest visit, I got a chance to peek into the soul of the city's only general interest bookstore.
Chapter One—Barbara Linder, President of the Friends of the Beverly Hills Public Library
Linder began volunteering with Friends nine years ago, but her friendship with our public book-lending facility dates back half a century.
"This is where I learned to read." she tells me.
"In those days, the library was inside city hall. When I was 7, I made a seashell collection which was chosen to be on display on the wall of the staircase which led to the adult section," Linder said. "Back then, no kids were allowed up in the adult section. I was so thrilled to have it there!"
As Linder and I chat, I'm trying to keep a careful eye on the customer purchases passing across the check-out desk before me. There goes an exquisite Metropolitan Museum of Art: Asia book and $25 into the till. That was one of the pricier offerings, as most books range from 25 cents to $3.
Uh oh, did I really just let The White Trash Cookbook slip right past me? I love collectible cookbooks and I do think my collection is missing that rare treasure. I'd better do some shopping now too.
Chapter Two—The Workers and the Workings
Where to first? Mysteries, biographies, gardening, self-help? There's something for everyone and I'm absolutely amazed by the selection of CDs, some of which are still sealed in plastic and go for $2. Been trying to complete your own collection? A volunteer will be happy to ask a sorter, or a "cage person" as they're affectionately known at Friends Book Shop, to be on the lookout for your special request. Rest assured that the book shop volunteers aim to please. They'll give you a call if they unearth your request in a future donation.
As luck would have it, I'm fortunate to meet an 18-year veteran of the cage today, Evelin Farkas.
"We found a rare book that someone was looking for one day," Farkas said. "They bought it for $400."
Whether you want to streamline your own bookshelves or go "green" by donating books rather than tossing them in the trash, the Friends Book Shop will gladly pick up larger donations within a 5-mile radius of the library. If you'd like to drop off books yourself, a phone call in advance will summon a cart to meet you at your car.
Epilogue—You Can Help the Friends of the Beverly Hills Public Library Make a Difference
Run by the Friends of the Beverly Hills Public Library and some 50 volunteers, what exactly is this fabulous little bookstore accomplishing? Linder and her pals want us book-savvy bargain hunters to know that holiday shopping is upon us and that your purchase goes a long way by paying for community-oriented library programs that otherwise would have little or no funding.
"This organization is dedicated to the preservation, promotion and enhancement of our library's collections, facilities and programs," she said. "The programs include the Summer Reading Program, the Roxbury Park Senior Library and delivery service for the homebound."
Then there's one project Linder mentions that really touches me.
"Each month we sort out the extra paperbacks and every Monday at 2 p.m. we take them to All Saints' Church on Santa Monica Boulevard where we distribute them to the homeless who are being served lunch," she said. "We want them to always have a book with them."
As Linder's shift and this visit come to an end, we walk out towards the bike rack.
"When I was 15, my dad gave me a bike to ride to the library," Linder said. "I've been riding that same bike here ever since. That's how I got here today."