Fabulous Finds: Connie Unger raises $31,000 for La Jolla Library via donated books

Over the last 11 years, former La Jollan Connie Unger raised more than $31,000 for La Jolla’s Riford Library. Tack on the funds matched by the City of San Diego, and that total jumps to more than $62,000.

Her efforts on behalf of the Friends of La Jolla Library and its used bookstore will be sorely missed. Unger, who moved to Carmel Valley, has decided not to continue appraising and selling books for the library, so she can spend more time with her grandchildren and volunteer with other organizations.

Friends assistant treasurer Jim Stewart has taken the reigns, but with this message: “We are so indebted to Connie for her years of service,” he said. “We could never fully express our gratitude to have such a long- term and faithful volunteer of that caliber.”

Unger explained her fundraising success formula: she took books donated to the Friends of La Jolla Library and sold the most valuable titles on eBay and through auction houses.

“La Jolla is an affluent community so the library gets amazing donations of books, and people care for their books, so I knew there would be a really valuable nugget every once in a while that we would make more money from if we sold it online,” she said.

Some of the shockers have been editions of books by Dr. Seuss and Julia Child that sold for $224 and a whopping $450 respectively, and a signed copy of “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini that sold for $117.

Stewart said especially unique or valuable books — less than 10 percent of everything that gets donated to the Friends of La Jolla Library — were handed over to Unger for exploration. She would then research their condition, determine whether a book was a first or early edition, had an unusual cover or was signed.

Anything worth more than $30, Unger listed on eBay, often with a “buy it now” price. The exceptionally valuable texts, she would send to an auction house in San Francisco to sell. Those books could go for about $500 apiece.

Former La Jolla Library branch manager Catherine Green told La Jolla Light that with Unger’s projects, they never had to “worry about missing out” on something valuable. “She’s fun, works really hard and willing to do anything to help,” Green said. “Plus she’s smart about this business, so when we handed something off to her, we were confident in her ability and knew we didn’t have to give it a second thought.”

Unger has some professional experience selling items online. Decades ago, she started a business called Web Auction Service, where she would sell items on eBay and make a commission from the sales.

For several years, she lived around the corner from the La Jolla Library, and approached the bookstore volunteers 11 years ago to see if she could lend her services. She said she has a longtime passion for libraries, joking, “if I could do it all again, I would be a librarian,” and that she was involved in getting the Scripps Ranch branch library built.

“Libraries are very important, even in this digital age,” she said. “The library system makes books accessible to the whole San Diego community and it’s all free. Libraries equalize the playing field because it doesn’t matter if you are from a high-income or low-income family, you have the same access to books and technology.

“It’s been my pleasure to do this service for the library,” she continued, “it’s been fun and rewarding and exciting at times. Some real odd books have come through, such as a collection of poems from a poet I’d never heard of (that fetched a lot of money). It was just weird sometimes.”

She said eclectic collections often come to the library when people pass away and their heirs donate boxes full of books. “They either don’t know or don’t care that the books are valuable,” she said.

La Jolla Librarian Shaun Briley said the proceeds from the sale of such contributions “really go a long way” and are used for “putting on events for kids, science workshops, buying the newest and best books for the library, and keeping our equipment up to date.”

Briley explained that about 20 percent of all funds donated to or generated by the Friends group stay within the group for them to invest how they see fit. The remainder goes to the downtown library to be matched by the city dollar-for-dollar. Of that matched total, a portion goes to underserved libraries, but the majority stays at the La Jolla Library.