Books by the thousands readied for annual sale to benefit symphony

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Friends of the Symphony volunteers gather in their Oak Street warehouse to sort and price thousands of books in advance of their big annual sale that starts Thursday. Book sale chairwoman Ellen Goldring looks over a teen novel.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Friends of the Symphony volunteers gather in their Oak Street warehouse to sort and price thousands of books in advance of their big annual sale that starts Thursday. Book sale chairwoman Ellen Goldring looks over a teen novel.

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Booklovers will be in bibliophile heaven at the 60th annual Symphony Book Fair this weekend, as more than 100,000 items are arrayed for their selection. Marlene Jaffe, who handles publicity for the sale, said that number includes “art, puzzles, CDs, DVDs and sheet music, but is mostly books.’’

The fair will be in the Student Life Center at Delgado Community College (entrance on Navarre Avenue) from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $10 on Thursday and free the other days.

The organization, Symphony Volunteers, collects donations year-round at its warehouse at 8605 Oak St. The space was abuzz with activity on a recent Tuesday, with a dozen or so women examining, moving, sorting and boxing books and other donations, and labeling each box with the type of contents — architecture, novels, travel, history, children’s literature and so forth — to facilitate setup at the sale site.

Although the women worked swiftly and steadily, the atmosphere was low key, with an air of conviviality. Jaffe, who served as Symphony Volunteers president in 2003, said she enjoyed the work. “It is an atmosphere that I enjoy — good fellowship, wonderful book discussions and similar ideals. We all love the LPO.’’

Ellen Goldring, serving for the second year as Book Fair chairwoman, agreed, saying “We all love music, books, art. It’s really my thing.’’ Now retired, she added, “I think all retired people should volunteer.’’

Linda Ferguson, across the book-laden table, said, “My mother used to say you have no reason to be on this earth if you don’t volunteer.’’ She said she’s been a Symphony Volunteer off and on for 40 years. Goldring mentioned another woman, Phyllis Bernstein, membership chairwoman, who has volunteered for more than 50 years.

Some of the volunteers are especially suited to the specific duties they handle. For instance, Elizabeth Hahn Furlong, who retired after a career as a first-grade teacher at the Louise S. McGehee School, is in charge of children’s books. And on the Saturday morning of the sale, she will hold a workshop during which children will decorate tote bags, then fill them with books, and be able to buy the bag full at a very low price.

Rachelen Lien covers sheet music and books on music, an apt task for the pianist, organist and music teacher who also has been active for years in the New Orleans Chapter of the Organ Historical Society. That group recently organized an all-day “organ crawl,’’ which led groups to seven New Orleans churches for brief recitals, information on the instruments’ histories, and the opportunity to play one or more of the organs.

Art objects and books are the specialty of Mary Ann Straub. Despite the accolades of the other volunteers, she said, “I’m not trained in art but enjoy and appreciate it.’’

Displaying those 100,000 items is a huge job and a major factor in sales, as in any retail setting, and is entrusted to Bev Churchill and Ellen Benz. Some of the offerings are brand new, some are in perfect condition even though a name or book plate give evidence of past ownership, and most are very gently used. Every now and again a book signed by the author pops up, and occasionally old, valuable books are discovered.

Jaffe showed a well-preserved volume from 1835 — a book about the U.S. Constitution produced for students. She said an out-of-print book once fetched $500 from a private buyer.

“We have several outlets for certain books that aren’t suitable for the fair,” she said.

Books are rated for the quality of the book itself, physical condition, age and whether a first edition. “Sets or series sell very well,’’ she said.

Nancy Pomkiechowski is president of the Symphony Volunteers and works with 14 other officers and board members. Thanks to the efforts of those who operate the annual Book Fair and the Encore Shop, an upscale consignment shop on Maple Street, the group is able to donate upwards of $100,000 annually to the orchestra.