While scouring tables for tome treasures during the annual Friends of Towson Library book sale April 10 to 13, buyers can hunt for something else of value this year: dragon eggs.
Each egg entitles the finder to a free or discounted book. The eggs are the theoretical offspring of the Towson Dragon, the playable art creature adorning the library's former faux fish pond, which provides a whimsical environment for teaching literacy to youngsters.
The eggs will be hidden among the thousands of gently used, donated fiction and nonfiction books, CDs and DVDs available at the Friends sale, which will be held in the building's downstairs Wilson and Towson meeting rooms, and which benefits the Towson branch.
Each dragon egg is inked with a large "20" since this the 20th annual sale that the all-volunteer Friends group has held to raise money for enhancements to the branch.
The Friends group helped foot the bill for the dragon as well as other amenities that the county budget doesn't cover, including special programs, events and speakers, exterior and interior landscaping — and comfortable furniture.
As former Friends president Dorothy Fraquelli put it, "If you can sit on it, we probably paid for it."
The eggs also could have been marked with a "75" since the Friends sale is celebrating its 75th anniversary, or a "40" since the library has been in its current location at 320 York Road for 40 years. They could have inked a "17" since Baltimore County Library System Director Jim Fish is leaving this June after nearly 18 years as BCPL's director. But the diminutive size of the dragon eggs precludes it.
As for the books, the pickings are especially good this year, according to Friends President Fay Citerone, who said that all the books have been donated by owners — none have been withdrawals culled from the library shelves.
"And we have been very selective to ensure they are only gently used," Citerone said.
One meeting room will be packed with barely used fiction: mysteries, science fiction and romance.
"Our real strength is inexpensive hardback fiction," said Friends treasurer Susan Gillette.
The other room will be chock full of nonfiction: books on gardening, cooking, fine art, history and biography.
There will be a large selection of children's books as well as a section of a very old books, some dating as far back as the 1820s. Eight copies of "Pride and Prejudice" made the cut — seven others didn't.
One-hundred percent of the profit goes to the Towson Library, Gillette said, noting that the net profit is usually very close to gross sales because the Friends try to keep the costs down. Last year's sale cleared over $15,000.
"We accept checks and cash but we do not accept credit cards," Gillette said. "That may make us quaint and old-fashioned, but the required technology isn't worth the expense. And in all this time I've never had a bad check. It's a nice clientele."
In fact, it's almost like a reunion, according to Nora Kotula, who is co-chairing the sale with Pam Bowman.
"You see many of the same people each year," Kotula said. "I mentioned to one lady that I would have bought the books she purchased if I had seen them. She came back the next year and gave them to me."
Kotula said she looks forward to "set-up night", the evening before the Thursday opening almost as much as the sale itself. That's when at least 40 volunteers, including Boy Scouts from Troop 792 at Loch Raven United Methodist Church, descend on the packed storage area behind the Towson Room, where the books and other items have been waiting in boxes since June 1 of the previous year to make their debut.
"It's total chaos, but when we walk out at about 8:30 p.m. we're set to go," she said.
If anyone appreciates what the Friends do, it's Lisa Hughes, manager of the Towson branch since September of 2012.
"What I wasn't aware of was how large an event it was and how much planning and coordination of effort it takes," she said.
Towson is the only branch in the 19-branch Baltimore County Public Library system that is allowed to do a book sale, Hughes said, explaining that the BCPL policy adopted about five years ago ordered all branches to sell books withdrawn from the shelves to Better World Book Sale instead of selling them to the public.
The policy did not affect Towson, however, because of the Friends' successful track record of soliciting donations of books from the public instead of selling withdrawn books. The Towson branch has the third highest circulation numbers in the system and the highest door count.
"The book sale gives us the opportunity to make enhancements to the branch instead of waiting in line within the system," Hughes said. "It allows us to be able to do things for the customers that we otherwise might not be able to afford. It's wonderful."
The book sale begins Thursday, April 10 at 5 p.m. with a three-hour first-choice sale, which is free to members of the Friends and cost other buyers $10. There is no admission fee for the public sale, which runs from Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to Sunday, April 13 from 1 to 4 p.m. Prices are reduced each day, and by Sunday, most items are $2 for a stack a foot high.
"We highly recommend you bring a shopping cart or cloth bags," Gillette said.