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A Tale of Sorts

After 32 years, library volunteer still reading, sorting, and selling.

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When Sherman Dixon was in college, there was a moment when he thought he might like to be a writer.

"I mentioned it to a teacher of mine who had read some of my themes, and she said, 'You know, Sherman, some people are born to be writers and some are born to be readers.'" Remembering this, Dixon laughs. "Point well taken."

Indeed. Dixon has been an avid Friends of the Library volunteer for 32 years, sorting — and reading — the library's donated books.

A graduate of East High and the University of Memphis, Dixon is a retired postmaster who began his career as a buyer for Sears. But it wasn't until his late 30s when he stumbled across his first Friends book sale that he found a passion for volunteering.

"I used to haunt bookstores," he says. "I just like looking at old, used books."

There's a lot of looking involved. In the Benjamin Hooks Central Library basement where donated books are housed, there are more than 60,000 volumes at any given time. The rest are in the library's bookstore, Second Editions, or waiting to be priced and posted on Amazon.com.

Dixon is part of a team of dedicated volunteers who each manage a different part of the process, though all do quite a bit of sorting. The volunteers — among them, retired teachers, a retired doctor, a zoo employee, and another retired postmaster — have widespread interests. Dixon's English degree means that he oversees the sorting of the literature books, as well as presiding over the art and religion sections.

"We're such a small group, but we have every section covered," Dixon says.

When Dixon started volunteering, the library occupied the corner of Peabody and McLean, and the Friends averaged $12,000 from two annual booksales. Now, in the massive Poplar Avenue building, they've expanded to three annual sales and year-round book sales through Second Editions and Amazon — bringing in at least $185,000 this year.

Many books sell for less than a dollar in the sales or in the bookstore, though rare books bring much better returns on the Amazon site. The most valuable books, Dixon says, are the ones that go straight into the library.

"We call those 'cost avoidance' donations," he says, noting that saving the library money on buying books is as good as bringing in extra revenue. The Friends do their fair share of donating as well, letting nonprofits peruse the leftover books from the annual sales, taking whatever they can use.

"I've probably touched a million books in the last 30 years," Dixon says, "but I still get excited when I find something valuable."

Visit the Friends of the Library's Amazon site at www.amazon.com/shops/

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