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Jefferson Award winner, September 2019: Jim Dast

MADISON (WKOW) — Deep in the basement of the Memorial Library at UW-Madison lies hidden treasures, books that tell a story of what’s written on the pages and where they’ve been.

“It’s really a thrill to open up a box of books and think, ‘Maybe there’s gonna be a treasure in here.’ And sometimes there is.”

That excitement Jim Dast experiences has kept him coming back to the library for decades.

“I don’t think of it as giving back. I think of it as the library giving me this opportunity to do what I want to do.”

Jim worked as a conservator at Memorial Library for 20 years, taking care of the collection.

“He just has such depth of knowledge and such an appreciation for books,” said Libby Theune, administrator for Friends of UW-Madison Libraries.

Even after Jim retired in 1996, his work continues.

“He is truly the man behind the curtain that makes everything go,” said Libby.

For the past 23 years, Jim has been volunteering at the library two days a week.

“If I didn’t come back what else would I do? That’s the key to retirement, I think, is having a reason to get up every day.”

For hours, Jim sorts through tens of thousands of donated books and with a critical eye, he sets aside the ones he believes are special. They go to a used book sale for the friends of UW-Madison Libraries, held twice a year.

30,000 books are offered at the sale, each one, chosen by Jim.

“Our goal is to raise, and we usually meet it, in the neighborhood of $25,000 a sale,” said Libby.

That money goes right back to UW-Madison Libraries.

“The Friends of the Library do what they can to bring awareness and a spotlight to what’s special about the campus libraries. We host events, we bring in scholars and speakers and we couldn’t do any of that without the income that is generated from the book sale.”

The impact is massive. Over the years, Jim has helped raise nearly a million dollars.

“This is my goal, to reach a million dollars and then I can step aside.”

Letting go isn’t easy, and Jim will leave big shoes to fill. So now, he’s training others in the art of his selection process.

“Once I get that done, I can fade away in good conscience.”

“We are eternally in his debt,” said Libby. “We love him dearly and we hope he keeps doing it for a long time.”

Jim expects to hit that $1 million mark at the next sale, coming up October 16-19.

Friends of UW-Madison Libraries Book Sale:

Memorial Library, Room 116
Wednesday, October 16
Preview Sale: 4:00-8:00 p.m. ($5 entry)

Thursday and Friday, October 17-18
Regular Sale: 10:30 a.m.-7:00 p.m. (no entry fee)

Saturday, October 19
Bag Sale: 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. ($5 per bag)
Bring your own grocery bag or purchase one for $1
From 1:05-2:00 p.m. the remaining books & items are free

Amber Noggle

Anchor, 27 News at 5, 6 and 10

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