With few opportunities for women's greater education, Marion Talbot founded the American Association of University Women following the American Civil War.
The goal of the program, which aimed to promote women’s graduate education, was to “enable gifted women to use their intellectual powers for the good of humanity,” according to its website.
In 1916, 10 women gathered in a dorm at Penn State and established the Central Pennsylvania branch of the Association of Collegiate Alumni. After six years, the ACA merged with the AAUW, and the State College branch was born.
Forty-six years later, Pennsylvania branch members started a used book sale in State College, with part of the profit being donated to community programs and scholarships benefiting women’s education.
The 2023 used book sale was held Saturday through Tuesday in Penn State’s Snider Agricultural Arena.
This year marks the 61st annual used book sale run by AAUW.
“It was started back in 1962 when they just had a bunch of books and they decided to sell them out of a little room in the [HUB-Robeson Center],” co-chair of the used book sale Donna Trapp said.
Trapp said the first sale made “a little over $100,” which back in 1962 would have been a “huge amount of money.”
Trapp moved to State College in 2000 and joined the local branch of AAUW two years later.
“I’ve worked in some capacity with the sale for about 20 years at this point,” Trapp said. “When I started working here, my boss took me to this weird warehouse on Sparks Street, which was their workshop at the time. We went there to sort the books, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Trapp said the State College branch of AAUW is “the largest branch… in Pennsylvania.”
“AAUW is designed to promote equity and opportunities for women and girls, not only educational opportunities but also things like providing grants for different organizations that support women and girls,” Trapp said.
Trapp said AAUW provides undergraduate scholarships for women whose college careers have been “interrupted” due to finances, dropping out or limited resources.
“A lot of different nonprofit organizations will also apply for grants from us,” Trapp said. “So not only are we providing scholarships, but we’re helping more women and girls in the community through other agencies.”
Mary Ann Blair, co-chair of the used book sale, said AAUW normally gives out “four to five undergraduate scholarships” to women each year.
“We also support STEM programs and give community grants of about $40K,” Blair said.
As a newer AAUW member, Blair said the group is “amazing.”
“I have made so many friends and read so many books that I never would have picked up if I didn’t join AAUW,” Blair said. “My fellow volunteers are so smart and well-read, and there’s so much respect from everyone.”
Trapp said the four-day sale is "100%" staffed by volunteers.
“We have about 200 community volunteers that help us move the 4,000 boxes to the Ag Arena every year,” Trapp said.
Trapp and Blair said every single book is donated.
“We start processing the books in June every year, and we have a core group of people who does the sorting,” Trapp said.
Trapp said AAUW sorts the books into “35 different categories based on genre” before boxing them up, pricing them and repacking them.
“It’s just amazing how organized everything is,” Trapp said.
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While AAUW normally stops taking book donations in March or April, Trapp said the group is “working on getting the sale ready” most of the year.
Trapp said the amount of books AAUW puts up for sale is “just a fraction” of what it gets through donations.
“We recycle thousands of pounds of paper because some of the books we get through donations are not in the best condition,” Trapp said.
For Blair, helping out with the sale starts with “loving to read.”
“We are a service to the community as people bring us books that they cannot get rid of,” Blair said. “We will make the best use of those books that were treasures for you and your family.”
She added there’s always a task available for new volunteers.
“Whether it’s sorting, pricing or boxing, you get to see everything, and it makes me so happy,” Blair said.
Connie Schroeder, current vice president of marketing and communications for AAUW, has been a member for about 15 years.
“I learned about the group when my daughter, who had been a student at Penn State at the time, received a very good-sized scholarship for returning adult women students from AAUW,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said the scholarship pushed her daughter to go back and finish school when she needed it most after dropping out a few years prior.
“She was having trouble getting the money together to go back and finish and the scholarship really changed the path of her life,” Schroeder said.
Ever since AAUW helped her daughter, Schroeder said being active in the organization allowed her to “give something back.”
“I love to read, and the used book sale is a win-win-win through the dollars we raise,” Schroeder said.
AAUW, the environment and the community all benefit from the sale.
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“It helps us accomplish our mission to advance equity for women and girls, to provide scholarships for women like my daughter, as well as fund grants that assist local groups who in some way reflect our mission,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said the sale keeps “tons” of materials out of the landfill and puts books that might have been thrown away into “the hands of people.”
“The sale itself is also a beautiful example of the diversity of people and the community coming together for a wonderful event,” Schroeder said.
The book sale is AAUW's "biggest money generator,” Trapp said. For the last decade, the sale raises over $100,000 each year.
“It basically keeps us afloat,” Trapp said. “I think some of the college students should stick around for it because you’d be amazed at what people donate. We also have CDs, DVDs, puzzles and sheet music.”
Schroeder said AAUW holds the sale in mid-May because it’s the only time that the Agricultural Arena is available to them.
“Being held at this time, most Penn State students miss out on the sale, but the students who do come fall in love with it, especially on our bargain days,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said the sale ends with “Half-Price Monday and $8-a-Bag Day Tuesday.”
“This is the best deal around for a huge bargain on any kind of book that may interest someone,” Blair said.
Schroeder said it’s “so fun” to work together with a group of people on “such a worthwhile project.”
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