the book cellar

Book Cellar volunteers include: Susan Fretterd, Barb Doherty, Mandy Mitchell, David McKibben, Jean Crawford and Eileen Jacobs. Photo by George Mendel

A few years ago, when e-readers like the Kindle and Nook first  hit the market, many writers expressed fear for the future of books. Why, they asked, would anyone lug around a three-plus pound book like Infinite Jest when hundreds of titles could be stored on a lightweight e-reader?

But Mt. Lebanon Library’s Book Cellar—a used bookstore nestled below the library’s staircase and lining the downstairs lobby and hallway—is proving that people still love real books. Now in its sixth year, the Friends of Mt. Lebanon Library sponsored Book Cellar sells thousands of books annually. Here’s a little rundown on the store.

History: The Book Cellar grew out of the weeklong Twice Sold Tales used book sale, which started in 1968. Held every October, the sale eventually became one of the biggest used book sales in Western Pennsylvania. In 2008, a second, spring sale was added. That year the two sales combined brought in $60,000.

Opened: 6 p.m., December 4, 2008.

Hours: Open daily Mondays through Saturdays. Closed Sundays.
Hours open per week: 52.

Inventory: 8,000+ books (grouped by topic—history, cooking, general fiction, religion, poetry, large print, classics, etc), magazines, games, CDs and DVDs.

Number of current volunteers: 127 (for information about volunteering, check

Number of hours volunteers work annually: 7,000+

Prices: Books, CDs and DVDs are in the $1 to $2 range with some newer items marked up to $4 or $5. Mass market paperbacks are 75 cents. There’s also a 25-cent bargain table. Credit cards are accepted for purchases over $5.

Money raised annually: Approximately $85,000 in 2013.

Books sold annually: About 30,000 (online and in the store).

Most valuable book sold:  Mapping of the World: Early Printed World Maps, 1472-1700, sold for $335.

Items donated annually:  Approximately 50,000 items (includes CDs, DVDs, puzzles, games). Of these items 35,000 go into the store inventory. The rest, deemed unusable, are recycled or donated to the Washington City Mission.

How it helps: Over the years, proceeds from the book sales and bookstore have paid for improvements to the library’s meeting and reception rooms and additions to the library’s collection (such as books on tape for the children’s library). Book sale proceeds paid for the construction of the library courtyard.

Online too: Rare and special books worth more than a few dollars are sold on the Book Cellar’s Amazon page.

Out with the old: Books not sold in six months are donated to the Washington City Mission, placed in the bargain bin or recycled.

A little extra: The store also offers coffee, tea, juice, candies and other snacks, gift certificates and a few “baubles” (jewelry and knickknacks). There also is a reading area with comfy chairs where shoppers can sit awhile and peruse potential purchases.