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The CalgaryReads Big Book Sale celebrating 20 years of literacy


It's a book lover's dream.

In 2024, CalgaryReads Big Book Sale volunteers have sorted close to 200,000 donated books at the Calgary Curling Club for the sale that runs May 10th to the 20th.

"By going to the book sale, by buying books, you are supporting the next generation of reader," said Steacy Pinney, chair of the early child literacy committee with Rotary Calgary. "It's evident as you raise the amount of money that more and more books are leaving the curling club and going out into the community so people can experience the joy of reading."

The majority of books are priced between two and four dollars and the funds generated from the sale go towards child literacy programs with a goal of introducing more kids to the joy of reading.

The Rotary Club of Calgary is a steward of the sale and has partnered with Left Unread, an organization that focuses on a child's right to read.

"Our mission was always a thriving community, where people read and children in particular are supported to read," said Pinney.

First year

The first sale was held in 2003 and its purpose was to raise money to cover the cost of a CalgaryReads tutoring programs for early grade school students struggling with reading.

That year, selling gently used books, raised $5,000.

"We were a little tiny group of friends who knew that children needed help learning how to read," Pinney said. "We didn't have any corporate partners, we certainly didn't have any government funding."

The sale has grown over the years and in 2023 it generated more than $500,000 to champion literacy through initiatives led by YW Calgary, Book Bank, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area, Little Red Reading House along with Mount Royal University.

Book lovers

Pinney says many volunteers are book lovers who put in time to set up and run the sale to support literacy, but also to get first crack at purchasing books. The 1,200 plus volunteers are celebrated on the day before the actual sale begins when the doors are open to them to grab a maximum of 20 books.

"The act of being literate is intergenerational and so volunteering is also intergenerational," she said. "If you're a reader, your kids are probably going to read.

"If you're a volunteer, your children are probably more likely to volunteer because they see that act of service to community be modeled for them."

Joe Burgess has volunteered for six years and works tirelessly for weeks helping organize the sale.

"I mean, I love books I read constantly," he said. "For children's literacy, this is huge."

Burgess has two sons, 14-year-old Douglass and 15-year-old Fredrick. He's read countless stories to the boys while they were growing up and would like to see them reading more now they're older.

 "This is a good thing for me to teach them," he said. "I've brought them along just to see this process and everything to and get them to understand what this is all about."

Shoppers pay a small fee to enter the sale but can find gently-used bestsellers and new releases. The sale also has sections of audiobooks, DVD’s and collectibles.

Shirley McIntyre is a co-lead for the event who spends months organizing the sale. She says over the last 16 years volunteering, she's purchased at least 30 books a year and is excited about some of this year's selection of gently-used books.

"Best sellers this year, we have tons of 2023, 24 published books," she said. "So it's a great deal for six bucks, it's a great deal."

Rare book section

There is also a rare book section that David Wenzel helps look after during the sale.

"Each book in the collectible section is priced individually," he said. "It's a little bit of a different system in here so whereas out on the main floor, most of the books go for $4, here they're all priced individually."

Wenzel says most books in this section are priced from six to $10. But he says the most expensive book this year is called An Aegean Note-Book.

"It is almost a one of a kind treasure, it's one of 50 that was ever made in the world," he said.

"So we were lucky enough to have one here at the book sale priced at $750."

Wenzel says some of this collection aren't even on display at the sale because they're so rare and valuable.

"They're locked away in a secret location," he said. "We have posters representing the books here, people can get a sense of what the books are and if they like them, they phone a phone number (and a person brings them so) they can take a look at it in person and if they'd like it, then they can purchase it."

The 10-day sale begins May 10th. Top Stories

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