September 26, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Friends of Omaha Public Library has long hosted book sales to help raise funds for the library, but as technology has advanced, so has its methods. In 2006, volunteer Polly Goecke was quick to nominate her husband, Joe, when the organization began looking into internet book sales. A retired Valmont executive, Joe helped research online booksellers and procedures to determine that online sales would be a viable option. He then worked with fellow volunteer Jeanne Spence (the 2019 Friends board president) to set up a computerized system for inventory management, sales, and shipping. The duo decided to use available programs for efficiency and accountability instead of creating a new system.

Fast forward 13 years, and Joe is still a Friends volunteer, putting in regular hours for the now-robust online book sales program.

“We’ve had anywhere from five to eight volunteers doing all aspects of internet sales at any given time over the last few years. We appraise the value of the book and the condition of the book, we list it and we ship it,” Joe says. “It’s a good way to support the library.”

The online sales augment the organization’s used book sales that take place at the W. Clarke Swanson branch at 90th and Dodge Streets every Thursday and the first Saturday of every month. Many of those books there sell for $1.50, but receiving and sorting volunteers pass along books with potentially greater resale value to Joe and the other volunteers working in online sales. The online group sells all over the U.S. and internationally through sources like Amazon, AbeBooks, and Alibris.

Some books for sale are donated, but some are retired from library circulation. Ex-library books are not as collectible as books from personal collections, as ex-library books contain interior cards as well as stickers and stamps, which can be hard to remove and damage the book. “But there is a demand and they do sell,” Joe says.

The rates for online books vary, but they can often be found for $10-$15. Shipping rates are not included.

“Every month or so we have one that sells for $100 or $200. We have some that sell upwards to $1,000, but not many,” Joe says. “The highest price we ever got was $2,800 for a book. It was an English book on floor plans and architectural drawings of English manor houses.”

Joe favors reading nonfiction, especially history, and says he and other Friends volunteers enjoy the diversity of subjects and literature they see.

“The variety of books that come through for appraisal is vast. It’s unbelievable sometimes that books were published on these subjects,” he says.

Polly, who’s been with Friends around 20 years and has served as board president twice (her husband has also served once) and in other leadership positions, says she believes libraries are still relevant in the Internet age.

“I’ve always loved libraries. I think they’re vital to the city,” she says, citing computer access, credible reference books, activities for children, and special events as some of the valuable features open to everyone in the community. Her first volunteer service was for a children’s summer reading program at the Millard branch, and she enjoyed it so much she signed on with Friends years later and has participated in virtually all of the support organization’s various activities. A reader who enjoys “a little bit of everything, but mostly fiction,” Polly also likes to encourage young writers. She’s currently the chair for the Friends of Omaha Public Library’s Virginia Frank Memorial Writing Contest for students in fifth through eighth grades.

“Every volunteer position for the library Friends is fun,” she says.

The Friends organization is always looking for more members and volunteers, the Goeckes say. The book sales are an important discretionary funding source but membership fees beginning at $25 per year also support the library system.

“We like to make a little bit of money for the library to buy things that the city can’t. And we are keeping books out of the dumpster,” Joe says.

“It’s impossible to quantify how much Joe and Polly have done for Omaha Public Library.” says OPL Marketing Manager Emily Getzschman. “Even if we were to add up all of the hours they’ve spent volunteering at book sales and as board members and library advocates and all of the money they have helped to raise for the library, it still would not fully reflect the full impact of what they have done for the library and the community it serves. Volunteers like Joe and Polly are invaluable. Their commitment and dedication to seeing their library system flourish helps Omaha Public Library to offer more programs and services that it simply could not do without their support.”


For more information, visit omahalibrary.org and friendsomahalibrary.org.

This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Polly and Joe Goecke at library