Finding Hidden Gems in University Libraries

Hello, all!  Yes, I’m still alive but judging from the last post I would have probably thought I was dead.  The reason for the long post hiatus was simply a strategic time management decision.  You see, this blog, my used book business, my new web app eBizControl, my full-time job and my family take up a lot of time.  Oh, don’t forget about sleep.  I’ve decided to trim some of the activities and regular blog posts was one of them.  I hope you understand.  In any case, I recently received an email from Susan Scheck for a request to write a blog post.  I said absolutely!  You’ll find that Susan’s stories may closely resemble your own.  This is why I really enjoy these types of posts.  Thanks for being a reader!  – Adam

I’d like to share with you a source that, on occasion, can turn up some decent, if not amazingly profitable, books: university and college libraries. Most libraries, as we know, have periodic or ongoing book sales, and university and college libraries are no different.  If you live in an urban or suburban area, there are likely to be several within a comfortable distance. For example, I live within a half-hour’s drive of six colleges and universities, and another three more can be found within a 45-minute drive, so there’s always a ready source of books close by.

Once you’ve called your local libraries to find out book sale details and to make sure they are open to the general public (chances are they are), you can start scouting. I use ScoutPal on my cell phone, which for the last week has been a free trial (I’m new to serious scouting). Yet, in the last week, I’ve purchased about 35 books from one library, all in new or used-like new condition, without the usual library markings. In fact, in speaking to the sales clerk I found out they had been donations—and she also told me that it happens frequently enough that dealers come there to buy books. Music to my ears, even though I have some competition.

Below are some paperback books I found today, typical of what I have found so far:

Exchange Is Not Robbery: More Stories of an African Bar Girl (Paperback)
New: 9 from $17.99
Used from: $7.48 (Used: acceptable)
Rank: #1,954,335 in Books

Religion and Healing in America (paperback)
12 new from $31.41
19 Used from $20.00
Amazon Sales Rank: 347,724

Rethinking God as Gift: Marion, Derrida, and the Limits of Phenomenology
(Perspectives in Continental Philosophy)
12 New from $22.00
4 Used from $22.85
Amazon Sales Rank:1,183,918

And now, the hidden gem:

Religion, Revolution and English Radicalism: Non-conformity in Eighteenth-Century
Politics and Society
List Price: $74.00
15 All from $71.46
12 New from $71.52
3 Used from $71.46

Amazon Sales Rank: 532,574

You will notice that this last book is selling used from within $3 of the list price, and the new and used prices are pennies apart. The icing on the cake: the sales ranking. This is an expensive book that is on track to sell fast. In fact, I suspect it might be on more than a few required reading lists for the upcoming semester.  That’s another plus when sourcing from university libraries: the books are scholarly or semi-scholarly, so they may command higher prices and be in high demand several times a year, at the start of each academic semester. The flip side of this is that it’s common to find rankings in the three or four millions, yet it’s just as likely you may find books with a higher rank and with the potential to command a higher price. When you pay 50 cents or $1 per book, like I did, it’s just too good an opportunity to pass up. So go back to school—and bring a backpack.

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  • Reg B

    so true Adam… thanks for the blog…


    Great post, great stuff! Man, I got such a charge, reading about your sourcing and the treasures you culled. Something to be said about the hunt and conquer. Over in my neck of the woods, these stories seem to be so few and far between and it’s a thrill to read about your finds! Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more.

  • Susansmail11

    Hi there,
    Thanks so much for your feedback. Actually, Adam didn’t write the post, I did, and I hope to write more – and I agree, these stories are few and far between! I’m pursuing one right now, might take some more time to put together, so keep checking back. ;-)

  • Michelefranklin1

    I am so glad to see this I was feeling disheartened. I read last night that you have to sell 30,000 books a month to make a living at it! I have also read that major businesses have ruined it for the little guy by flooding the market. I am seeing so many books selling for one penny! I couldn’t get internet on my phone when I went searching so I wrote down the usbn’s. One of the books is selling for $62,00. I went back and bought it for a buck today! All the other textbooks were selling for a penny. I have many books but only about five are worth selling. About how many books do you usually sell a month? Thanks for the blog!
    Michele the hopeful

  • adbertram

    The market is getting tighter all the time it seems. However, it’s still very possible to make some good money at this. At it’s height, my book business grossed around $10K/month and I was selling less than 1,000 books/month. It’s all about finding those high priced ones for less. :)