WILLIAMSTOWN -- Stephen Dankner of Williamstown sat at a desk in the artists’ colony at Sweet Briar College in Amherst, Va., looking out the window at cattle and horses in the fields as he worked on a quartet for soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. One cow nearby seemed to be tuned to E-flat, he said, and he was composing in the same key.
Out of his long love of music, he has given his community a gift.
Dankner, who has written music often for the Albany Symphony Orchestra among many others, has donated two music encyclopedias to the Friends of Milne Library’s annual book sale: a 20-volume set of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians -- the most comprehensive reference work of its kind in English, he said -- and a six-volume set of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Music.
These works are are substantial in value as well as size and wll take a central spot in this year’s silent auction. Most of the volumes that come through the sale will rate a more usual book-sale price tag, most no more than $1. And from this river of books, the library annually raises between $20,000 and $30,000.
On a sunny afternoon in April, a team of a half-dozen volunteers looked through donations of all kinds, from adventure to birds to biography.
Susan Pike, book sale co-chairwoman, works with a team of sorters, collecting and going through the donations that will fill this year’s sale Friday and Saturday, April 25 and 26. Williams College has offered the Friends of Milne Library a new sorting center, she said, a house on Southworth Street, where volunteers have taken in some 25,000 books since September.
On Thursday, Connors Bros. movers will donate time and a truck to haul more than 1,200 boxes of books down the road to the Williamstown Elementary School -- and Williams athletic teams will arrive to help ferry the books to the right tables.
The book sale benefits from many generous people, with many varied and rich collections of the books they have loved and used over the years, agreed book donations coordinator Melissa Segalla and volunteers Katie Case and Jeanne Blake. They may find plums from the library of a retiring minister or physics professor.
They have also found children’s books including a pop-up book of anatomy.
On top of one stack, Case said, she picked up a local cookbook from Litchfield, Conn., where she grew up -- and opened it to read her mother’s bread recipe, and a recipe from her mother-in-law, mentioning her.
Blake said she had run into Tom Clancy’s first political thriller -- published by the U.S. Naval Academy
They gather the most unusual books to consider for the annual silent auction. Set off from the main book sale, the auction gathers books historic, colorful or unique -- in past years, it has collected Ansel Adams photographs, talks by e.e. cummings, Old Mother West Wind children’s books, a hardback life of Ben Franklin.
On the upper floor of headquarters, silent auction coordinators Jytte Brooks and Linda Conway research the value of any books that look unusual. Even for expensive books, they start the bidding low, Conway explained, standing by Leonard Baskin’s whimsically illustrated "Animals that Ought to Be."
Another table held art books on Parviz Nemati shawls, Robert Rauschemberg, Edward Hopper. Robert Lowell’s translation of Charles Baudelaire’s "The Voyage" and other poems sat beside a palm-sized, leather-bound copy of the speeches and letters of George Washington.
Library trustee Peter Mehlin called the sale a town-wide effort.
"Half the town bakes for the café," he said, offering sandwiches, hot soup, lunch and coffee to browsers.
Local businesses donate ingredients, he said, and the Spirit Shoppe collects boxes for the volunteers every week.
At the end of the sale, more college athletes appear, cross-country and football players, to help clear the gym. Though most books will sell, the volunteers will have some left at the end of the day. They are running a pilot program this year inviting local organizations to select books, free, for the people they serve, Mehlin and Pike said.
Goodwill will take some to massage into the community, and Big-Hearted Books, a company out of Boston, will take many of the rest to give to people who need them.
If you go ...
What: Friends of Milne Library annual gently used book sale, silent audtion, cake and bake sale, iPad raffle and Josie’s Cafe
Where: Williamstown Elementary School
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, April 25, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 26