The news coming out of the basement of the Natrona County Public Library last week was not about the 40th annual spring used book sale (March 26 to April 2), nor about the tens of thousands of volumes available.
Last week’s news was a shocker: The trio of year-round book-sale organizers — Betty Ouderkirk, Joy Mascarenas and Donna Mullen — is calling it quits.
And with their April departure comes uncertainty about the biggest used goods sale of any kind in Casper.
“We hope an organization or someone with lots of friends will step forward to take over, or this will be the last Friends [of the Library] book sale of this type,” said Ouderkirk, 83.
Her first sale was in 1977 after retiring — or so she thought — from full-time (albeit paid) employment.
“For the six years before I came, helpers were still putting out boxes for collection at grocery stores, and they worked on the sale for six weeks prior,” she said with a chuckle.
Nowadays, the three each work year-round about 30 hours a week and get paid nothing. There are other volunteers who help, but none has stepped forward in a leadership role, the three say.
As they prepared for a photo shoot in the room where they’ve spent so much of their recent lives, between cookbooks and novels alphabetized by author, Ouderkirk mused, “I thought I’d die between the stacks. I feel like I’ve been doing this forever.”
She and dear friend Wilma Bovie managed the sale with the help of a small group of volunteers until Bovie’s death in 2003.
Mascarenas, who is considered a strong advocate for children’s literacy in the state, has been with the sale as a volunteer for 19 years.
“We’ve had it,” she said. “So many years on this hard floor, and it’s our bodies as well as our energy. I’m afraid we’re really going to disappoint some people. Teachers, home-schoolers and young parents have depended on these low-cost books for years, and I hope the book sales continue in some format.”
Mascarenas said her used children’s book inventory comes to the library often “in pretty rough shape,” and she takes work home nearly every night, erasing and cleaning and mending while she watches television.
Ouderkirk, too, works frequently at home after a full day “in the stacks,” cataloging and researching and preparing the “great books” for silent auction during the spring book sale.
The Friends’ sales, a weekend sale in the fall and the weeklong one each spring, have resulted in more than $1 million in contributions directly to the library.
Mullen began work in earnest with the sale upon her family’s return to Casper in 2002.
She is in a unique position among the three because her husband, Chris, is president of the Friends of the Library, under whose auspices the sale is run.
“He actually teared up the other night when we announced our decision to the board,” Donna said. “He knows the toll it’s taken on the family and on my health, but he worries for the library.”
Donna Mullen said after last spring’s sale, “We took a whole week off and I spent that week with my kids.”
After that, she said she knew it was time, and perhaps from spending so much time together for nine years, Ouderkirk and Mascarenas were in agreement.
“They’ve been staying for me,” Ouderkirk said. “Without Wilma, I could not have gone on without them.”
Library director Bill Nelson praised the work of the three, and tried to assure patrons that some sort of sale will continue.
“Thanks to Betty, Donna and Joy ... they’ve provided an invaluable service to the community and this library with their dedication all these years,” Nelson said.
“We will continue to have sales from time to time,” Nelson said. “It will be interesting to see what the new model will be.”
Meanwhile, as president of the Friends, Chris Mullen will entertain all positive suggestions by individuals or groups about how to proceed with future sales.
“It’s so much more than the monies we raise,” he said. “Through the years, our book sales have been a community institution, and we would hate to see it all come to an end.”
Those seriously interested in discussing the future of library books sales are invited to e-mail Chris Mullen at email@example.com or Nelson at BNelson@