She saved 200,000 books from the landfill and hopes to find them all a home

Myriam Gaudet gives a new lease on life to books that aren't flying off the shelves at local thrift stores, but her success in amassing a wealth of literature has posed a problem: how to store all these books until the right buyer comes along.

'Tsunami of books' occupies large barn and 2 farmhouses — and it continues to grow

Bookstore owner looking for new space for massive collection

1 year ago
Duration 2:00
Myriam Gaudet, who owns Red Cart Books in Cornwall, Ont., takes in used books to keep them from ending up in landfills. Her collection has now grown to more than 200,000 volumes — and she’s running out of space to store them.

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

Gaudet, who owns Red Cart Books in Cornwall, Ont., now has a barn and two other farmhouses on the same property full of donated hardcovers, paperbacks and coffee table books, spanning every genre imaginable.

"If I don't take them, they go to the landfill. So I take them," she said.

"I just wish we could hang onto them long enough until the right person comes looking for them, because eventually — pretty much every book — someone will come looking for it."

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

After five years of collecting unwanted books from local thrift stores that would otherwise be tossed in the local dump, Gaudet has amassed nearly 200,000 titles.

However, this wealth of literature poses some unique problems.

A small stack of books is perched atop a mountain of boxes containing Gaudet's weekly collections from seven thrift stores in the Cornwall area. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

The books are essentially in deep storage, inaccessible to customers and unsearchable by the bookstore's three-person staff since most of them aren't catalogued. Gaudet is also close to maxing out the storage space she has available.

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

Stacks of books occupy every inch of available space in this farmhouse, which belongs to Gaudet's family. She says she's grateful she can use the farm buildings to house the books while she formulates a long-term plan for her inventory. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Books come from thrift stores

What Gaudet calls a "tsunami of books" is flooding in primarily from seven thrift stores in the Cornwall area. Often, donated books can't be sold in a timely fashion, and so they are taken off the shelves and deposited at the local dump.

Gaudet said she learned of the problem a few years ago, when she ran the book department at 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 downtown Cornwall. Gaudet hopes that one day, her entire inventory will be available to the public. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

After leaving that job, she started Red Cart Books. For the first year, it was an online-only venture, focused primarily on selling off a collection of roughly 4,000 books for a friend.

But things changed when a former colleague, now working at another thrift store in the area, contacted Gaudet to find out if she could take some of the store's overflow books, thus diverting them from the landfill.

Gaudet began stopping by every week to collect unsold books. At first, the inventory that didn't fit into her tiny storefront on Pitt Street was stored on neat rows of shelves set up in the Gaudet family farmhouse, alphabetized and catalogued.

Some of the books that Gaudet collected early on are neatly organized on shelves in her family's farmhouse. She says she has photographed a few thousand of them to be sold online. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

But then she began contacting other thrift stores to see if they had any books destined for the dump that she could take off their hands.

One thrift store soon became seven.

Too much of a good thing

Julie Leroux manages the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Cornwall. For the last three years, she says, the store has set aside 300 to 700 books for Gaudet every week. She's delighted the books aren't going to waste.

"[Myriam's] vision, her need for books ... is just as strong as ours," she said. "We want to make sure everybody gets the chance to be able to read."

Julie Leroux, manager of the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Cornwall, says books normally stay on the sales floor at her store for about four weeks. Those that don't sell after that time are boxed up for Red Cart Books. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

These days, each time Gaudet makes her weekly rounds, she returns with more than 2,000 books, but now she has "no place to put them."

In late December, she posted on her store's Facebook page searching for a solution.

She has a tentative plan to build a small storage building, but there are limits to what she can afford.

"Nobody gets rich running a bookstore," she said. "You do it because you love books."

In one section of the barn, Gaudet has wrapped the books in clear plastic and garbage bags to shield them from the elements. She checks on the books regularly to make sure they stay in good condition. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

'Value to every book'

Gaudet is fuelled by the desire to hold onto the books long enough for the right buyer to come along.

Monique Sauvé came to Red Cart Books looking for a guide on meditation to help her make use of the healing room she had just created in her home.

She says it's difficult to find good books on the topic, but New Chakra Healing by Cyndi Dale — once destined for the landfill — was sitting on a shelf waiting for her.

"It's nice to see that they're not being thrown out, because there's value to every book," Sauvé said.

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


Alexander Behne

Former CBC journalist

Alexander Behne is a former CBC reporter.