UPDATE (Jan. 28, 2020): The Surplus Textbook Warehouse has reopened with new hours of operation. Please click here to see our news story.
The Polk County Public Schools surplus book warehouse is a treasure trove filled with hidden gems of knowledge.
Every week, people dig through thousands of old textbooks and library books that would otherwise be destined for recycling. Instead, the books find new life as they make their way into the hands of other young learners.
Best of all? They’re free.
“It’s like a box of Cracker Jack,” said Michael Boire, gesturing to the hundreds of boxes stacked throughout the warehouse. “You never know what prize you’ll find inside.”
Boire helps organize and run the surplus book warehouse at 965 State Road 60 E. in Bartow.
When new books are adopted, the previous texts are taken out of service. Each week, Boire travels around the county dropping off new books and picking up old ones.
The surplus book warehouse is only open to visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The place can be overwhelming. New visitors let Boire know what types of books they want, and he points them in the right direction.
“They call me the Book Bloodhound,” he said, chuckling. “Just tell me what you need, and I’ll find it.”
Michael Boire helps visitors locate books at the surplus warehouse.
Boire knows many of his regular “customers” by name. He offers sidewalk chalk and bubbles so kids can play while their parents are busy searching. He also jots down visitors’ phone numbers and will give them a call if a particular book they are seeking comes into stock.
The warehouse is often frequented by parents who homeschool their children, as well as individuals from private schools, churches and charities. Some public school teachers also grab books as extra learning material for their students.
Books that don’t get taken can be sold to a recycling company, allowing the district to recoup some money.
Kate Stefanakos learned about the warehouse on a social media post shared by homeschool parents.
“I was shocked,” said Stefanakos, who makes a couple trips each month from her home in Brandon to see what books are available.
During a recent visit, her 9-year-old son, Elias, snagged a copy of the popular C. S. Lewis’ fantasy story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He saw the movie, now he gets to read the book.
Kate Stefanakos and her son, Elias
The textbooks are a valuable resource and often save Stefanakos from having to buy books and additional learning material for her son.
“I can’t imagine not having it,” she said. “When I was buying his curriculum, I spent about $600 or $700 just on kindergarten.”
For more information about the surplus book warehouse, call 863-534-0903 or 863-534-0906 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.