While public libraries everywhere are adapting more or less effectively to the many challenges posed by the technological revolution, the East Hampton Library — known not so very long ago for its dusty stacks, once-a-year book sales, and “Shhh, quiet, please” admonitions — is fast becoming a pacesetter among its peers. Not only is it keeping up with digital change, it is running a step or two ahead.
Most small libraries here, including East Hampton, Amagansett, Sag Harbor, and Montauk, have offered Internet and Wi-Fi service (a lifesaver for their communities in the days following Hurricane Sandy) for several years now, not to mention downloadable music, streaming movies, classes in Windows and eBay, and, more recently, e-readers to lend out, preloaded with both classics and best sellers. But the East Hampton Library has gone beyond, into a wider world.
Asked why it had held no Memorial Day book sale this summer, as had been the tradition, Dennis Fabiszak, the library’s director, sat back in his chair and smiled.
“We were making $4,000 to $5,000 a year on book sales,” he began, painting a picture of a labor-intensive process of planning and execution dependent to a large extent on an army of volunteers. “Then, about a year and a half ago, we became a ‘corporate seller’ on Amazon, with about 1,500 books.”
That means that Amazon catalogs East Hampton’s books, many of them “very obscure,” on its giant site, where, said Mr. Fabiszak, people all over the world can find and order them.
“Our books are being purchased by government officials, collectors, people who really want them,” he said. “Every morning we see that maybe 20 have been bought, and we send them out.” Not long ago, the library shipped a Roy Lichtenstein art book to a buyer in South Korea who identified himself as the minister of defense there.
“We could have them on a cart for years and years, and no one would pay $1 for them,” Mr. Fabiszak said. “Now, people fight to pay $50. We are estimated to make $30,000 this year.”
Because the library is doing so well with its virtual partner, said the director, it is able, for the first time, to give away “thousands of books” at its brick-and-mortar site on Main Street near Town Pond — “yet we are still making six or seven times as much. Much, much, more money on Amazon.”
While a few patrons may not yet be aware that toward the back of the building piles of free books can be found, with new ones added every day, a lot of people have apparently caught on.
“In the last six months we’ve given away over 10,000 books,” said Mr. Fabiszak, “It’s the best of both worlds.”