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The Library Helped Me Start My Business
Helen Oram

With the help of libraries, I published a book - 3 different editions - and created a profitable web site.

Fourteen years ago, my husband and I attended a library book sale and were discussing how we could find other sales. Our family had relied on libraries - and library book sales - throughout our sons' school years, but now our sons had careers of their own - my work was finished. It was just the two of us, and book sales were still a weekend ritual.

We didn't want to miss a nearby sale, and there was no publication that listed them all. Then it struck me - I would publish one myself! Composing and publishing this information would be the entrepreneurial experience I'd always wanted.

I've always turned to the library for research, so starting there was the obvious first step. I borrowed books on self-publishing, which gave me insights into cover design, printing, and marketing. I learned the vernacular of the industry: paper quality, color considerations, print runs, pricing, negotiating with a printer, how to get a book into stores - everything a self-publisher needs to know. It was the most pleasurable - and rewarding - education I've ever received.

But I needed more than just borrowed books; our local librarians were there for me, too. With their help and direction, I found reference resources that explained yet more of the arcane aspects of book publishing: distribution, wholesaling, agents, ISBNs, copyrights, and a great deal more.

So much for the easy part. Now the bigger problem: gathering information for the book. Most used book sales are run by library Friends groups; but how would I reach them? I could write to libraries, but would need addresses. Another trip to my library and - voila! - there was a reference book, American Library Directory, filled with everything I needed.

Spring is a popular season for used book sales, so I needed to contact the libraries in January to give them time to pass the questionnaires to book sale organizers and return them to us. Throughout the 1993 holiday season, presents, wrapping paper and ribbons shared table space with questionnaires, envelopes, address labels and stamps!

Soon the replies began pouring in. Thanks to librarians and Friends groups throughout New England, we had what we needed. And they not only gave us information; many gave us thanks and encouragement - just the boost we needed when we were tired and discouraged. The dining room table was covered with forms, schedules, and notes. We finally decided that those rooms our sons vacated needed to become our office space. Now there was no turning back (for us or our sons!).

Our 2-car garage became a 1-car garage, with copies of The Guide to Used Book Sales in New England piled on pallets. We practiced all the marketing tips learned from the self-publishing guides. Our book managed to get some nice reviews, including a mention by the New York Times Book Review!

After that, there was no stopping; we decided to go nationwide (and our work increased accordingly). The next year, copies of Book Sales in America took their place on those pallets - created, once again, from information provided to us by thousands of librarians and Friends groups across the country.

By the time we were ready to publish the 1997 edition, new information was arriving daily, so immediately after sending the book to the printer, it was already out of date. The Internet arrived right on cue; it was the perfect solution. was born, and we could now update the web page as soon as we learned about a sale. A few years later we expanded to include book sales in Canada as well.

Book Sale Finder is still a two-person operation and we now list over 6,000 book sales each year. I have not stepped foot into most of the libraries, but without the help from librarians and library staff from coast to coast, the books would not have been produced, the website would not exist, this story would not be written - and I would not have achieved my dream - a home-based business that is personally and financially rewarding.

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