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Book Exchange Rules in Flux at Recycling Center

Familiar complaints about aggressive book-sellers hogging the free books and intimidating other people were aired at a small community meeting Wednesday at the interim Book Exchange at the El Cerrito Recycling Center.

The dominant sentiment at an at the popular Book Exchange at the El Cerrito Recycling Center was that something should be done to stop greedy book-sellers who grab large numbers of the best books to resell and who intimidate other patrons seeking volumes for their personal reading pleasure.

The city, which is inviting public input on a set of draft rules to foster mutual respect and equal access for all users of the Book Exchange, convened a community meeting Wednesday afternoon that drew 17 members of the public.

"I'm one who stopped using it because I got turned off by aggressive people," said one woman who came to the meeting, which was held at the Book Exchange's interim home at the site. The recycling center is being rebuilt, and the Book Exchange was relocated temporarily to the outer edge of the construction site.

Anyone can drop their unwanted books off at the Book Exchange, and anyone can take books away. When the new recycling center is completed, the Book Exchange will move into expanded quarters under a new name, the Exchange Zone, which will accept additional items that can be reused, including art and school supplies, CDs, and tools, among others.

The city posted a set of rules at the interim Book Exchange several months ago, saying, for example, “SHARE ACCESS to new donations – do not monopolize.” The rules, however, gradually disappeared because they were attached to the part of a canvas canopy that was rolled up (though it was unrolled Wednesday by a man who attended the meeting and wanted to see them). The complete list can be found at the bottom of this article.

The woman who said she had stopped using the Book Exchange also said she was dubious that such rules telling people to share and be nice would solve the problem.

Another woman asked, "How do you police people who don't have common decency?"

A man asked, "It is it a readers' community, or it is a book-sellers' access?"

Garth Schultz, an environmental analyst for the city who manages the recycling center and who conducted the meeting, said the rules are subject to revision and probably need some changes, both before the new center opens and afterward. He said he welcomes comments and suggestions from the public at 510-559-7684 or gschultz@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us.

At present, there is no rule banning those who want to take books for resale, he said.

"My goal is to try to balance the needs of all current users," he said. "...It needs everybody to work together to come to a mutually agreeable outcome."

During an informal discussion after the meeting broke up, Heather Frey, an online book-seller, suggested consideration of an association or agreement involving the book-sellers who use the exchange to establish rules that they would be willing to observe.

Temporary relocations

In related news, the Book Exchange must leave its current interim location as of next Monday, Dec. 5, because of the ongoing construction. The city earlier said it would then be suspended until the new facility opens, but Schultz said Wednesday that a minimal Book Exchange – consisting only of the large book bin without the bookcases – would continue to operate in a new temporary location next to the Goodwill trailer's interim home.

The spot for dropping off bottles, cans and other recyclable materials also will be moved Dec. 5 to the easternmost end of Schmidt Lane, next to the eastern edge of the construction site for the new recycling center.

Opening for new recycling center

The new recycling center is expected to be completed some time in February, said Melanie Mintz, the city's environmental services manager. Most of the infrastructure will be finished in January, but new water mains won't be finished until the following month, she said. There's some possibility that the center could begin partial operation in January, she said.

The center's administration building will be delivered in pre-fabricated parts Friday morning, she said.

The recently drafted rules

The rules that Schultz were posted a few months are divided into two parts, one for the recycling center as a whole and the other for the Exchange Zone:

City of El Cerrito Recycling Center

Rules of Conduct

In order to create a welcoming and safe community environment, please:

  • Be COURTEOUS, COOPERATIVE, and RESPECTFUL to other patrons, staff, and neighbors
  • Drop off items in their DESIGNATED BINS OR AREAS ONLY, no trash or discarded materials outside the bins
  • DO NOT drop off items that do not have designated bins or areas (see the information center or office for a list of resources)
  • DO NOT take recyclable items from bins without staff permission
  • DO NOT get in or move any bins, containers or other equipment
  • SUPERVISE your children and leave pets in your car or at home
  • NOTIFY staff of any issues and call 911 in case of emergency
  • Drop-off area parking is limited to 20 minutes – for longer durations park on Schmidt Lane

Patrons adhering to this conduct will help us operate the El Cerrito Recycling Center as a premier environmental service. Please notify recycling center personnel about any concerns in regards to discourteous users.

City of El Cerrito Recycling Center  

Exchange Zone Rules

This Exchange Zone is intended as a community resource, and as such users agree to:

  •  Be FAIR, COOPERATE, and promote COMMUNITY behavior
  • Give PLENTY OF ROOM for others to browse and donate items comfortably
  • SHARE ACCESS to new donations – do not monopolize
  • Follow all other City of El Cerrito Recycling Center Rules of Conduct

Correction: The first mention of El Cerrito Environmental Analyst Garth Schultz in the original version of this article incorrectly gave his last name as Hudson. It has been corrected.

Paul December 01, 2011 at 04:17 PM
I think commercial resellers should be prohibited from using the facility. If they do use it, they should pay a fee to help operate and maintain the facility (since they intend to profit from the generosity of others). But since an outright ban of resellers would probably meet tremendous resistance, how about a limit of 10 items per day for all users - that would give everyone an equal opportunity.
bill December 01, 2011 at 04:39 PM
I recently dropped off a dozen or more paperbacks, and was surprised that before I had even finished putting them on the shelf that some man was taking all of them. I naively assumed it was a fan of the same genre and authors, but now I see that it was a greedy book reseller taking advantage of the system. I don't think there could be any enforcable system to keep resellers from stealing the books other than to hire someone to monitor the shelves, and THAT isn't going to happen. If there was a monitor, a 3 book maximum per day would be MORE than enough to satisfy even the most voracious reader. The number of people gaming the system by stealing from recycling bins at the center and at homes, the scrap metal locusts taking anything that isn't bolted down or answering "free" ads and then scrapping bikes and other items that could be used by needy people, and now the book resellers; it's getting pretty bad.
Frank December 01, 2011 at 06:21 PM
Perhaps the answer is to charge by the lb. or by the item for paper items taken from the center. I am assuming the center gets $ for items it sends out for recycling and that the center has operating expenses.
Lisa Greenstein December 01, 2011 at 06:32 PM
I think charging for the books would slow down the book resellers and could give the recycling center income to offset hiring someone to organize and manage the incoming and outgoing of the books.
Paul December 01, 2011 at 06:53 PM
Another thought - all incoming items could be boldly stamped/marked - "NOT FOR SALE - Courtesy of El Cerrito Free Exchange Zone". Maybe that would decrease resale values and discourage resellers?
richard steele December 02, 2011 at 01:42 AM
That is a great idea for paperbacks but it would take time.
Kathy A. December 02, 2011 at 09:27 PM
I've also had concerns, dropping off bags of books and having them snatched up immediately by re-sellers. Once the guy was actually looking up pricing before I left the recycling center. The intent of donors is to simply share books with neighbors, not to fund someone's re-selling business. What if the rules require re-sellers to get a permit or something, and then pay a reasonable amount for what they take, and put a daily limit on the takings? For example, limit of so many daily, at least a couple or few bucks for textbooks + large books + hardbacks in good condition, maybe 50 cents or a dollar for paperbacks. And, people may be willing to pay something for those nicer books, even if they are not reselling. A way to enforce that might be to have a membership card for ordinary citizens wanting the free books, with a daily limit -- so everyone checking out needs a card. And those who abuse the system can be tracked. This idea requires some infrastructure and staffing, but with some money coming in, perhaps that is workable.
Deborah December 03, 2011 at 04:05 AM
I was under the impression that they were "resellers" also and part of the problem. Their site says they sell books only to cover PGE, rent, etc. Wondering how true that is. I was disappointed when they opened so close to the EC Recycle center, thinking it might take away from donations to the recycle center. Now I'm wondering how they deal with resellers... esp. when they allow people to take up to 100 books each visit!
Kathy A. December 03, 2011 at 05:31 AM
The free book co-op stamps books that people take for free. It also diverts books worth bucks to resell, to fund its operation.
Kathy A. December 03, 2011 at 05:32 AM
I was really trying to respond to Deborah.
Deborah December 03, 2011 at 06:06 AM
Thanks Kathy.
Liz Engan December 04, 2011 at 05:31 PM
I'm not sure most people realize how MANY books pass through the recycling center. If you put a low book limit on the number of books, many good books would end up in the landfill because there would not be enough shelf space to keep them. Think of it as the book SPCA. I go often, and while I certainly have seen a few "greedy" booksellers, most are considerate. As far as stamping goes, I can't bring myself use the Free book exchange because they stamp their books, and I feel like it defaces the book. This is OK for cheap paper backs, but really, do you want to pick up a hundred year old copy of some classic (which I have found at the recycling center more than once) and have it stamped NOT FOR SALE in red ink? I don't. I don't resell books, but I use the center often because the books are free, and I don't think it hurts to let booksellers use it, too. Honestly, there seem to be plenty of books for everyone. Monitor the behavior, not the number of books.
Eliza O'Malley December 04, 2011 at 10:30 PM
Thanks for this! The idea that anybody in the ever vulnerable bookseller business where books go for pennies at online sources could be called "greedy" seems funny to me. If people really only want their neighbors to read their books, then they can put them in a free box in front of their own houses.... or give them to the library. If people care about books, they should be happy that people are watching like hawks to make sure that the best ones are taken in before they deteriorate at the recycling center. I think that those resellers are making an honest living and I don't mind paying a few dollars to shop at their stores.
Elizabeth Whipple December 06, 2011 at 02:31 AM
I buy used books at Pegasus: I can afford it and I want to support the store. I didn't know about friction @ the Book Exchange, but in these lean times some people will find a way to profit from others' generosity (toy drives for kids, gone overnight). All the ideas require monitoring. I suggest prominent signage, with a daily limit for all visitors, resellers included. Keep it straightforward and upbeat. I just want people to read! Elizabeth Whipple
arthur December 07, 2011 at 06:30 PM
No fees. No taxes. How about everyone helping out to keep the book exchange going by volunteering to keep it neat and clean so everyone can enjoy it. While I agree there are overexuberant booksellers, they do have a right to access the book exchange. Not all books are taken by booksellers. There are a number of people who take books for their churches,senior homes, library booksales and some for our troops overseas. Limiting the amount of books taken will not work because the number of book drops vary. Sometimes there so many books that it can cover a large area of the parking lot. Sometimes a trickle. I am a volunteer and I ( and many others) help keep the book exchange neat and clean. Sometimes it can be overwhelming and may take hours of my time. I heard that a city councilperson has been a source of the complaint. That person should introduce a system for the use of volunteers at the recycle center before the city council if he/she has concerns. Don't blame it on just one group. Consider a badge system (color-coded) for frequent visitors to the exchange which shows a block of time (when they can come in the afternoon or morning and what days). If they do not comply then they can be banned. While they are badged and present at the book exchange, they should be required to maintain the cleanliness of the exchange shelves. For those who complain that their donated books are profitting others, drop them in your gray recycle bin or the BLUE Bins aound town.
Sarah R March 14, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Maybe the city should do what the Free Bookstore does - stamp each book on the inside cover. That prevents the books from being resold at Half-Price Books. The booksellers check the inside cover to see if there's a stamp and then doesn't buy the ones that are stamped. This would require those working at the Recycling Center to require the donated books be placed somewhere else first so they can be stamped before being put into the donation bins.
Sarah R March 14, 2012 at 03:33 PM
While the signage is nice I don't think people are going to follow the guidelines by placing up a few signs.

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