First Avenue book sale – thirty years of reading and recycling the written word

Book Sale

By Kylie Taggart

Book Sale
Photo: Kylie Taggart
With much volunteer help, the now traditional First Avenue book sale will once again take place from Thursday, April 18 to Sunday, April 21
In 1983, the parents of First Avenue Public School students embarked on a new fundraising initiative: a book sale. The school had just undergone an extensive renovation and the new gym was the perfect site to host the sale. Children were encouraged to ask their families and neighbours for used books, and classes with high participation won prizes like a pizza lunch. One volunteer sewed a large canvas sign to advertise the sale.

At the time, Elmdale and Rockcliffe Park public schools already hosted (and still do host) successful book sales. Says Christine Wilson, one of the organizers of the first First Avenue book sale, it was Elmdale volunteers who mentored First Avenue parents on how to set it up, suggesting things like having different sections and how to price the books First Avenue chose to have an April sale so as not to interfere with the other schools’ book sales. Like the current sale, the proceeds were to go towards school programs and equipment. “We were surprised by how well it went from the start,” says former city councillor Clive Doucet, who had two children at First Avenue when the sale began.

The first sale was a success and the start of a great annual event and tradition. Wilson remembers that it only took a few years before 20,000 books were collected each year. In 2002, more than 30,000 were collected. In 1997, $12,000 was raised. Over the past few years, the amount raised has exceeded $20,000.

Like the Great Glebe Garage sale, which started the same year, Wilson says the book sale was “not just selling to make a profit, but more about recycling.” Before the sale, teachers as well as the librarians from First Avenue and Cambridge Street Public School were invited to take books for their classes and libraries. Children and volunteers got first pick of the books. Former book sale organizer Allison Dingle remembers the “great excitement” when the children went down as a class to shop for books.

The number of volunteers who have made the book sale happen over the years is staggering. Each year, volunteers fill more than 200 two-hour shifts to put the sale together. Dingle says “almost everybody helped out who had children at the school.” Teachers, grandparents, alumni and high school students have also worked on it. Past organizers remember the camaraderie amongst volunteers. “Most people working at the book sale love books,” Dingle says.

Along the way, there have been a few mishaps, such as in 2002 when two volunteers got locked in the store room (they were soon rescued). There have also been treasures emerge. Wilson found a signed copy of Margaret Laurence’s The Olden Days Coat. Last year, three bills dating from the 1950s were discovered in the pages of a book.
A downside of the book sale has always been figuring out what to do with the leftover books. Some years they were thrown out, other years donated to charities or other fundraising sales. For the past two years the leftovers were taken to New Orleans by the Better World Books charity.

Over 30 years, surprisingly few things have changed. An enterprising janitor obtained surplus furniture from the school board so that teachers no longer need to dump out their bookshelves to furnish the sale. A cake raffle was added. This year’s sale will have a new feature: five per cent of the profits will go to charities selected by the students.
For 30 years, the book sale has got the Glebe reading. “I still go through our bookshelf and see yellow dots on some of the books,” Wilson laughs. So send your memories of the First Avenue book sale – happy or sad, funny or nerve wracking – to

Please see for more details on dates and times.

Kylie Taggart is a First Avenue alumna who remembers the excitement of attending the first sale and relives it every year with her three children, all First Avenue students.

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