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09/05/2023 02:34 PM

John Smith: A Friend Indeed to Blackstone Library Book Sale

Friends of the Blackstone Library, board member John Smith is a friend, indeed, when it comes to promoting and supporting the Friends of the Blackstone Library Annual Book Sale. This year’s big tent event takes place on the Branford Green Thursday, Sept. 14 through Sunday, Sept. 17. Pam Johnson/The Sound

In the canon of Friends of the Blackstone Library, board member John Smith is a friend, indeed, when it comes to promoting and supporting the Friends of the Blackstone Library Annual Book Sale. This year’s big tent event takes place on the Branford Green Thursday, Sept. 14 through Sunday, Sept. 17.

“When you see this 88 x 100-foot tent come up, I think everyone in town loves it,” says John. “And the citizens are the ones who are contributing these books we have to offer. There will be 60,000 books on this Green.”

Of course, those gently-used, donated books — the majority of which will be sold for about $1 to $2 each — don’t just appear overnight. It takes a lot of people power, mainly supplied by the Friends themselves, to set up for the annual sale.

To that point, John welcomes anyone with a strong back a few hours to spare to join in and assist with moving the heavy bins that will be trucked in for the sale from the Friend’s year-round book sorting sites in town.

“I’m looking for people that can lift. There will be 56 pallets that will come onto this Green by forklift, with 1,500 blue bins that weigh about 45 pounds apiece. So it’s a massive deal,” says John.

Speaking of lifting, John wants to give a shout-out to Bill Van Wilgen of Branford for contributing on-going assistance at the Friends’ sorting site by providing lifting equipment.

“Twice a month, he comes over and does the lifting for us. Prior to that, it was three guys lifting, and they’re all over 65,” says John.

John oversees the volunteers’ regular collection and movement of books throughout the year, from three collection points to sorting and storage.

At the sorting site, “...we have about dozen people who are subject heads, and they’re the ones that have the final say of what gets into the blue bins,” says John.

To set up the book sale, once the bins of books arrive on the Green, they need to be hand-shuttled to fill 225 tables, which also need to be set up under the tent (volunteers are also welcome to assist with that side of the project). Anyone who would like to assist for a few hours is asked to reach out in advance by emailing

Once the bins are brought to the tables, a huge group of Friends volunteers and assisting hands, including about 25 Branford High School volunteer students, start the unpacking and set-up process.

“There’s probably 100 people unloading those books,” John notes.

The Friends currently have approximately 300 members on its roster, with about

40 serving as year-round volunteers. John joined the Friends board nine years ago and headed up the finance committee.

He credits all of the presidents who’ve helped to lead this all-volunteer group, founded in 1988, right up to current board president, Barbara Barrett. John adds that much of the success of the Friends’ year-round online book sales program is due to its 2017 launch by Barrett and her husband, Joe Genua, also a Friends board member.

John also credits Barrett with the new concept of gathering sponsors to help offset the big expense involved with the book sale’s big tent rental.

“The price for the tent is about 50% of the overall price for running the sale on the green. So to have these sponsors is a big help. We’re going to have banners displayed this year to help thank the sponsors,” says Joe.

A listing of all sponsors, and more information about what’s in store for this year’s book sale, including dozens of new categories and subcategories, can be found at

The Town of Branford funds 85% of the Blackstone’s budget, and the Friends step up to provide needs outside of those budgeted funds. As John describes it, “We supply the added value” to the library patron experience.

The book sale is the Friends single largest fundraiser of the year, with a goal of raising $60,000. Proceeds (minus operating expenses) are donated to the library to help fund requests prioritized by the library director.

Friends sponsor the library’s streaming services, lectures, and programs, provide funds for special programming, particularly for the Youth Services Department, and funds for equipment, museum passes, movies, concerts, furniture, and plantings for the library grounds. For the 2022-2023 fiscal year, Friends donated over $70,000 to the library.

A successful sale is also needed this year as the Friends are facing some increased operating expenses. Due to a lease increase at one site and the need to move out of a basement space in the Patrica C. Andriole Volunteer Services building as part of the planned Branford Police Department facility renovation/upgrade process, costs are going up.

“There’s definitely a need from our perspective to have a very good sale because of the pressures of the costs that we have,” says John, who would love to see someone step up to offer about 2,225 square feet of space for future use.

A Boston native, John moved to Branford 50 years ago and became involved in his community in many ways, starting off with his involvement with the Short Beach Civic Association, together with his wife, Constance, who served for many years as treasurer.

John went on to serve as an elected official with the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) for 18 consecutive years, representing District 3. During his RTM tenure, John was both a minority leader and a majority leader.

While the Smiths were raising their two boys, Ian and Cullin, John became involved with the Branford Soccer League, serving as president of the league for 18 years.

“My wife has been so supportive to let me do these things and put in the hours involved,” says John.

Due to his wealth of experience with local organizations, John has a fairly good idea of what makes one great, and Friends of the Blackstone Library exceeds the mark.

“This particular board and this particular organization is as good as it gets in terms of being well-run, principled, and very open and transparent. It’s just a wonderful thing,” says John. “Over the last four years, we’ve given the library over a quarter of a million dollars, and it’s all on volunteers.”

Admission is free to the Friends of the Blackstone Library 2023 Fall Book Sale on the Branford Green Thursday, Sept. 14, 7 to 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 15, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 17, noon to 3 p.m. A preview sale will take place Thursday, Sept. 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. for which non-Friends members admission is $15 admission.