The Ottawa Public Library’s hidden gem

The annual Mammoth Used Book Sale is taking place this coming weekend at the Nepean Sportsplex from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 17.

Renée Rietveld is a lifetime Ottawan and current Sttitsvillian, who is a senior public servant by day, and a documentary filmmaker (and co-owner of On the Street Cinema) by night. Apart from her sometimes unhealthy obsession with the world of film, she also enjoys long distance running, traveling, photography, reading, and having a pint at Darcy McGee’s. But not all at the same time.

Apart from my obsession with all things film, I’m also a huge bookworm.

Luckily for me and all you other Local Tourists, Ottawa is quite a good place to be a bibliophile. Whether it is cozying up with a great book by the fire during one of our many blustery winter days, or packing a picnic and spreading out on the glorious grass of Confederation Park on a sweltering summer day – this city is a great place to kick back and enjoy some good reads.

For more information on the Ottawa Public Library visit

You can then imagine my great surprise (and bookworm nerdy joy) when a colleague of mine let me in on one of Ottawa’s best kept book buying secrets. No, it’s not one of the fantastic local book stores tucked away in every corner of this fair city (although they are all uniquely great in their own ways), but a used/donated book sale that happens every week at the Ottawa Public Library’s (OPL) main branch on the corner of Laurier Avenue West and Metcalfe Street. To date it is my favourite (semi-secret) Ottawa discovery, one I love so much that I’m almost afraid of more people finding out about it.

You can keep a secret right?

The main branch of the Ottawa Public Library at Laurier and Metcalfe (Credit: Steve Brandon via Flickr)

The first time I walked the one minute journey from my office to the library’s main lobby (I know, it’s a blessing and a curse having cheap books this close), I was like a kid in a candy bookstore. These sales are a booklover’s dream: from paperbacks to children’s books, travel guides to textbooks, and everything in between. With just a little bit of time and patience to browse, I guarantee you’ll be sure to find something that piques your interest.

An added bonus is the price: each book costs (on average) between one and ten dollars!

I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of great books on that first visit, even some that were very new and in almost mint condition. Naturally, I have since become a book buying junkie, visiting the library for either a browse at the sales or the downstairs shop at least twice a week. I have pretty much always left with a stack full, and often for no more than the price of a couple cups of coffee.

After looking into it a bit more, I found out that the sales are run by the Friends of the Ottawa Public Library Association (FOPLA), a great group of volunteers who sell donated books on behalf of the library as a means of supporting its many branches across the city. Better yet, they sell them not just at the main branch but in 14 other branch locations across the city (with two new ones opening soon at the Greely and St. Laurent branches).

Photo credit: Ottawa Public Library

Where does the money raised go?

Jasmine Bell, a PR assistant for the FOPLA, tells me: “The money goes to things like improving spaces, offering more or better programs, purchasing additional materials (books and A/V), and library approved projects (such as scholarship funds for students at the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College pursuing degrees and diplomas in Information and Library Studies).”

Great books, great reads, and most importantly a great cause – it doesn’t get much better than that. For a full list of these locations and their hours, as well as information about their self-serve and speciality book sales, you can visit their website.

You might also want to check out the FOPLA’s annual Mammoth Used Book Sale taking place this coming weekend at the Nepean Sportsplex from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 17.

Parking and admission are both free.

Here’s hoping you find some hidden gems of your own, and happy reading Ottawa!