There is a mysterious walled-in area that never sees the light of day in the underground parking garage at the Palos Verdes Library.
The windowless space is the used book room—a favorite haunt of the most ardent readers on the hill.
For eight years, volunteers Nell Mirels and Michelle Witt have spent hundreds of hours there surrounded by hundreds of books.
People donate boxes of books to the library almost every day. And, it's up to Mirels and Witt to evaluate each and every book and decide its fate.
If a book has mold or smells funny, it gets tossed out, but that’s rare.
Is the book appropriate for internet sales? Is it better to be shelved in the used book shop to sell?
But, what if the book is in good shape, but it’s just a bit old and timeworn?
“We pride ourselves on finding homes for those books from the past,” Witt said.” They might be kids’ books, engineering books or a classic that isn’t in print anymore. So, we look for foster home groups and engineering groups and give those books to them.”
Both women live on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Mirels and her husband, Harold, have lived in Rolling Hills Estates for fifty-eight years. Their three children grew up in in the rural community and attended the local schools. When the children were young, Mirels was a volunteer for the PTA and the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy. Later, she joined the Palos Verdes League of Women Voters and worked for several years in city government.
“I was on the RHE Planning Commission, a 17-year City Council member, and the mayor four times,” Mirels said proudly. “I was also the president of the Contract City Association, the President of the Los Angeles division of the League of California Cities—all of that was volunteer work.”
In addition to her volunteer work, Mirels was a substitute teacher in the Palos Verdes high schools.
In 1989 Mirels retired from the City Council. She said that the Palos Verdes Library called the next day and asked her to be the president of the Friends of the Library. She agreed and when her term as president was over, she became the secretary—a position she held for years.
When the library asked her to run their used book sales on Thursday nights, in typical Mirels fashion, she said yes. One thing led to another and she ended up in the corner of the parking garage in the used book store.
Last month, Mirels said, she worked 98 hours.
“I used to work a lot more,” she said,” but now that I’m not driving, I have to rely on friends, like Michelle, to come get me and take me home.”
“And I’m happy to,” Witt said, smiling.
Witt lives in Rancho Palos Verdes with her husband Eric. Their son, Bailey, is a senior at Arizona State University. When Bailey was young, Witt spent a lot of time with him in the used book room.
“I brought Bailey because I wanted to support the library," Witt said. "If he needed a book for school, I’d bring him to the used book room instead of Barnes and Noble, and we’d usually find the book. He’s always been an avid reader and he loved the used book store; we’d come just about every weekend.”
Mirels noticed how much time Witt and her son spent in the book store. So one afternoon when Witt was paying for their books, Mirels suggested she become a volunteer.
“Now I’m here all the time,” Witt said. “There’s been a lot of changes and growth since I started.”
The library makes money from the used book sales that take place on the first Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each month.
The three book store managers, Witt, Mirels and Barb Anast, have worked hard to increase the overall revenue and acquire new customers through internet sales on Amazon and the Art of Books. The money from the used book sales keeps the library open on Sundays.
Almost every day, the three volunteers can be found in the used book store.
Regular customers know that if the light’s on they’re welcome to come in and browse. The women know most of the customers and look forward to seeing them. A lady from Santa Rosa brings them jam when she comes down, another customer flies in to play bridge and stops by to fill up her suitcase with books. Little kids who frequent the shop can’t wait to get old enough to volunteer there.
Mirels and Witt insist they get much more from volunteering than they give.
They meet people every day who share their love of reading and they’re supporting the library.
For Colleen Cotter, the executive director of the Friends of the Library, volunteers like Mirels and Witt are what make the Palos Verdes Library District a first-class library. The hundreds of hours library volunteers put in cover myriad elements, everything from the gift shop to internet sales to reference support.
"We are constantly amazed at the dedication and love that our volunteers exhibit each day at all three branches. We are so very lucky to have superior volunteers," Cotter said.
To find out how you can volunteer at the library visit https://www.pvld.org.
there is a mysterious walled-in area that never sees the light of day.