Boxes of donated books arrive every week, to be sold in the bustling Red Cross book store out front. Money raised here is used to support a range of Red Cross programmes, helping vulnerable people in the community and overseas.

Since the store opened a few months ago, donations have flooded in. For the fifty volunteers, that means a lot of sorting.

The team have it down to a streamlined art. Books are put through a three-pronged sorting process, where they are eventually placed in one of more than 60 categories, based on their subject matter.

Red Cross volunteer Vivien Lewis says helping out in the shop is a rewarding task, although one that requires a bit of willpower.

“You think, OK, I won’t buy any more books. Then a book comes in and you think, oh, just one more,” she says.

“The people you work with, they all love books, so you natter about books all day.”

In another corner, volunteer co-ordinator Jill Spicer is carefully reviewing a pile of older volumes.

All the books on this table were published before 1940. They’re in varying states of repair - some have torn pages and missing dust jackets, while others look as though they’ve never been read.

These books, torn pages and all, are the special ones. First editions and other valuable books are often spotted among the boxes of donated goods. Anything flagged as potentially valuable will end up on this table, in the restricted area of the sorting room.

Collector's items

A dedicated group of volunteers researches titles online to determine how much donated books are worth. Some of the results are surprising, Jill says.

One book uncovered by the research team is valued at more than $700.

The Red Cross volunteers will sell it, and the other valuable books they unearth, for much less than a typical collector’s asking price. Many of the valuable collector’s items are sold online through TradeMe, Jill says.

On the shop floor, among the red-and-white shelves full of comics, novels and picture books, other volunteers help customers choose their next great read.

For Bruce Haggett, volunteering in the shop is a way to indulge his love of books.

He’s a bit of science fiction buff, but among the team, there is a variety of interests and expertise, so customers can always ask for recommendations, no matter what their reading tastes.

General fiction seems to be the flavour of the month right now. However, locals pop in to buy books on all sorts of topics, even subjects as specific as earthquake strengthening engineering, he says.

“You get so much variety – you never get bored. I’m totally addicted to coming in here and volunteering.”

Find our Red Cross book shop at 245 Main Street, Palmerston North.