Oct 07, 2023 3:25 PM

52 Faces: A couple of bookends

Posted Oct 07, 2023 3:25 PM
<b>Tom and Cindy Murphy of the Friends of the Library take a break from preparing for the group’s book sale last week to pose for a photo at the Burlington Public Library. Photo/John Lovretta</b>
Tom and Cindy Murphy of the Friends of the Library take a break from preparing for the group’s book sale last week to pose for a photo at the Burlington Public Library. Photo/John Lovretta

The Murphys turn a love of books into a passion for volunteering.

By William Smith

Tom and Cindy Murphy are happiest when surrounded by books.

Most days, you can find them inside the Burlington Public Library. If they are not reading, you can find them volunteering.

“I love sci-fi. I’m not much of a nonfiction reader, but it is rare that I don’t have a book I’m reading,” Cindy Murphy said.

For the past decade, Tom and Cindy have headed up the “Friends of the Library” Book Sale. Each quarterly book sale brings in about $3,000, which is used to help fund programs and services.

The weekend-long event ends with a bag sale where everything you can stuff in a bag is $1. Murphy said it is a win-win for the library. They not only make money off used books but likely increase readership.

“Someone will come over to me during the sale, and they’ll have five bags. And they will ask, ‘Is that too many?” I’ll say, ‘Go get more,’” Cindy said.

The Murphys took over the book sales from the late Peggy Ell about seven years ago. They work closely with the library’s bookstore — Footnotes. The store offers slightly more expensive used books in better condition, and the annual Black Friday sale at the library focuses entirely on those books.

Given the wide selection of genres at the book sale, many customers think the Murphys craft the event according to book type. In actuality, the sale revolves around the available books. 

All the used books sold are public donations.

“We sell what we get,” Cindy said. “We try to bring up all the boxes of books for every sale. We’re just lucky that our public has a wide variety of books they donate.”

Preparing for each book sale is a days-long process. The first step is to haul all the used books upstairs for sorting. The day before the book sale, library employees and other volunteers pitch in to help set up inside the library’s meeting room. About 50 to 60 percent of the books, DVDs, magazines, and other items on the shelves are sold by the time the event is done.

“I think the sale before this we had over 30 boxes of mystery novels. In the last sale, we had 12. We have up to 300 boxes of books in the basement and bring up about 200 of them for sale. It takes a while to work through,” Cindy said.

Tom and Cindy have been members of Friends of the Library for nine years. They worked closely with former library director Rhonda Frevert and have fostered a trusting relationship with current library director Brittany Jacobs.

“Brittany is very supportive. She will just come in and visit with us once in a while. I know some other libraries where it’s not so cordial,” Cindy said.

So does Jacobs. She’s worked in several libraries across the country and said the relationship between the library and friends group at some of them was contentious at best.

“This is the best relationship I’ve seen between a library and a friends group,” Jacobs said.

The Murphys take pride in that, as do the other Friends of the Library members. Many of them, like the Murphys, are retired. 

Tom grew up in Burlington, Cindy grew up in New London, and both of them retired young. Tom worked at Two Rivers Bank and Trust for 41 years, and Cindy worked at Southeastern Community College for 32 years.

“We both retired in 2014. We were young babies when we retired, and we knew we needed something to do,” Cindy said.

Tom and Cindy are gaining more fulfillment from their toil than ever, and they don’t make a dime. Entry into a wonderland of books is more than payment enough.

Cindy recalled when late book sale organizer Peggy Ell joked about how the sale used to stay open until 6 p.m. Friday nights to accommodate one particular couple who recently retired. 

Cindy and Tom were already helping with the book sale by then, and Cindy’s face turned red at the realization.

“They were staying open late just for us,” Cindy said. “And we made it worth their time. I’m a voracious reader.”

The Murphys have gladly been paying back that kindness ever since.

“It’s the most fun you can have. And it’s a lot of work,” Cindy said.