She has saved 200,000 books from landfill and hopes to find homes for all of them

Standing amidst her towering stacks of books, with barely enough room to move between them, Myriam Gaudet clings to the belief that each will find a new home.

Gaudet, owned by Red Cart Books in Cornwall, Ontario, now has a barn and two other farmhouses on the same property filled with donated hardcovers, paperbacks and illustrated books of every genre imaginable.

“If I don’t take them, they end up in the landfill. So I’ll take her,” she said.

“I just wish we could hold on to them long enough for the right person to look for them, because eventually – pretty much every book – someone will be looking for them.”

Myriam Gaudet stands between the shelves she installed when she first started collecting unwanted books from thrift stores. Her inventory has since blown to fill two entire farmhouses and a large barn. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

After five years of collecting unwanted books from local thrift stores that would otherwise end up in the local landfill, Gaudet has amassed almost 200,000 titles.

However, this wealth of literature raises some unique problems.

A small stack of books sits atop a mound of boxes containing Gaudet’s weekly collections from seven thrift shops around the Cornish area. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

The books are essentially in deep storage, inaccessible to customers, and unsearchable by the bookstore’s three-person staff, as most of them are uncataloged. Gaudet is also about to exhaust the storage space available to her.

She predicts that in a few months she will run out of room in her family’s farm buildings and be forced to stop accepting new donations.

Stacks of books take up every inch of available space in this farmhouse owned by Gaudet’s family. She says she’s grateful to be able to use the farm buildings to house the books while formulating a long-term plan for her inventory. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Books come from thrift stores

What Gaudet calls a ‘book tsunami’ comes mainly from seven second-hand shops in the Cornish area. Often donated books cannot be sold in a timely manner and are therefore taken off the shelves and dumped in the local landfill.

Gaudet said she learned about the problem a few years ago when she ran the book department of a for-profit thrift store. More than three quarters of the donated books were never sold.

The fiction section in the small Red Cart Books shop on Pitt Street in Cornwall city centre. Gaudet hopes that one day their entire inventory will be available to the public. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

After leaving that job, she founded Red Cart Books. In its first year it was an online-only business, primarily focused on selling a collection of around 4,000 books for a friend.

But things changed when a former colleague who now works at another local thrift store contacted Gaudet to see if she could take some of the store’s overstocked books and divert them from the landfill.

Gaudet began stopping by every week to collect unsold books. First, inventory that did not fit in their tiny Pitt Street storefront was stored alphabetically and cataloged on neat rows of shelves set up in the Gaudet family farmhouse.

Some of the books Gaudet collected early on stand neatly on shelves in her family’s farmhouse. She says she photographed a few thousand of them to sell online. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

But then she started contacting other thrift stores to see if they had any books for the dump to get off their hands.

One second-hand shop soon became seven.

Overdressed

Julie Leroux runs the Salvation Army’s second hand shop in Cornwall. For the past three years, she says, the store has reserved 300 to 700 books for Gaudet every week. She is pleased that the books are not wasted.

“[Myriam’s] Vision, their need for books…is as strong as ours,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone gets a chance to read.”

Julie Leroux, manager of The Salvation Army’s second-hand shop in Cornwall, says books typically stay in her shop’s sales floor for around four weeks. Those that don’t sell after that time are boxed for Red Cart Books. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

These days Gaudet comes back with more than 2,000 books every time she does her weekly round, but now she has “no place to keep them”.

In late December, she went to her store’s Facebook page to look for a solution.

She has a tentative plan to build a small storage building, but what she can afford is limited.

“No one gets rich by running a bookstore,” she said. “You do it because you love books.”

In one part of the barn, Gaudet wrapped the books in clear plastic and garbage bags to protect them from the elements. She regularly checks the books to ensure they remain in good condition. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

“Value for every book”

Gaudet is driven by a desire to keep the books long enough for the right buyer to come along.

Monique Sauvé came to Red Cart Books looking for a meditation guide to help her utilize the healing space she had just created in her home.

She says it’s difficult to find good books on the subject, but New Chakra Healing by Cyndi Dale – once destined for the landfill – sat on a shelf waiting for her.

“It’s nice to see that they aren’t being thrown away because every book has value,” Sauvé said.

Monique Sauvé first visited Red Cart Books and found a guide on meditation, a genre she says is hard to come by. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

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