Whoever predicted that the advent of the Internet would lead to the death of the printed word has never seen the Pequot Library lawn in the hours before the opening of the landmark Southport library's annual book sale.

A crowd estimated at about 500 book dealers and serious collectors, music lovers and the public waited patiently Friday morning for the opening of the 50th annual Pequot Library Book Sale, which did not get under way with the usual bang. Absent was the traditional cannon shot that marks the opening of the five-day sale. Instead, Douglas Fried, one of two event chairmen, announced, "Let the sale begin."

Don Bowdren, of Milford, dashed immediately to the tent where the CDs, DVDs and sheet music were on sale, intent on finding a CD of composer Felix Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." And he did.

Ira Hymoff, of Portland, Maine, said a local friend had told him for several years about the Pequot Book Sale -- one of the largest in the Northeast -- before he actually made the trip south to the seaside enclave. After he finally made the trip, he hasn't missed the event once in the last six years. "It's by far one of the best I've been to in the country; always a great selection of books and the quality is great," Hymoff said, as he combed through books in the travel section. He also shopped for books by international writers and for CDs in the music and opera sections.

"They have the best books here. The conditions are great, there's a great variety and the (library staff and volunteers) are very nice," said Mari Vazquez, of Bronx, N.Y., who was attending her second sale.

One man, who would only identify himself as Pete, said he didn't think the sale was as good as in year's past. "Just a lot of ordinary books," he said, but acknowledged, "I may be getting picky."

As Fatima Barroso, of Fairfield, and her daughters Ysabela, 8, and Amalia, 6, pored over the children's literature, 3-year-old Catarina stood in the aisle turning pages in a Thomas the Train book called "Blue Train, Green Train," and made up her own story, inspired by the illustrations.

Barroso said this was her first time at the sale and she wanted to bring her daughters so they could pick out their own books. "They love to read and we encourage them to read all the time," she said. "This is amazing and it's such an incredible deal," she said. And that was on Friday when book prices were doubled. On Saturday and Sunday the prices are as marked. On Monday they will be half-price and on Tuesday, the final day, sale items are $5 per bag.

Some people searched with laser focus through specific categories for particular titles, authors or subjects. Others slowly and methodically sorted through each book in a row. Many people got down on hands and knees under tables to go through boxes.

"You get really good at crawling here. It's a total workout," said Sarah Lord, of Weston, who has attended the book sale every year since 2003. "I'm a creative person so I'm always looking for inspiration," she said as she looked through the home décor, crafts and hobbies areas. Lord called the sale "A book hoarder's heaven" and "The Brimfield of Book Sales," referring to the popular street antiques show in Massachusetts.

Rain did force the sale's tent flaps to be closed for a while Friday afternoon, and caused a brief power outage in the tent offering food and drink, but things could have been a lot worse, according to Pequot Library Executive Director Daniel Snydacker, who held his breath Wednesday night as a tornado touched down in at least four Connecticut towns and nearby Westport was raked by near-tornado winds. The storms toppled an empty tent on the Pequot lawn.

"We got battered by that storm, but we escaped unscathed. The storm came right over us," Snydacker said.

As patrons and staff huddled from the storm's fury Wednesday in the Perkin Gallery -- the interior of the library that is solid concrete and granite -- Snydacker said a particular picture formed in his mind. "We had an image of the Wicked Witch of the West riding on her bicycle in a tornado filled with books from our sale."

Coincidentally, one of the offerings in the silent auction is a book titled, "U.S. Tornadoes Part 1, 70-year statistics," by T. Theodore Fujita, the man who devised the scale that determines the strength of a tornado by its wind speeds. Fujito signed the book and drew a tornado under which he printed "Mr. Tornado."

The 50th annual Pequot Library Book Sale continues through Tuesday. The schedule follows:

Saturday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., items priced as marked; Sunday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., items priced as marked; Monday, 9a.m.-6 p.m., items half off marked price, and Tuesday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., $5 a bag.

The 4th annual "Young Readers' Day" is Sunday, with the Young Readers Day tent opening at 10 a.m.

For more information about the book sale or donating books for the sale, call 203-259-0346, ext. 25, or e-mail booksale@pequotlibrary.org, or check the website, www.pequotlibrary.org.


50th annual book sale

Number of books/items at the first sale: 6,000

Number of books/items this year: more than 140,000

Categories: more than 50, including children's books, current fiction, classic literature, gardening and nature, cooking, history, mystery, science, science fiction, Connecticut and New England, sports, travel, crafts and hobbies, health, music, performing arts, art and architecture, and biography.

Oldest book: "The History of Jamaica," printed in 1774, three-volume, leather-bound set. Available in the silent auction.

Sale co-chairmen: Douglas Fried and John Hartwell

Number of volunteers: more than 60 before the sale; 150 additional volunteers on sales days.

Special activities: Young Readers' Day held Sunday, featuring a 1 p.m. concert by Marcia Louis. Silent auction of special books continues through 3 p.m. Saturday; detailed descriptions of the auction items can be found on the library's website.

Other facts: The Pequot Book Sale is the library's biggest fundraiser of the year, generating nearly 15 percent of the its annual operating budget. Domestic-arts celebrity Martha Stewart and actors Jason Robards and Paul Newman have attended the sale in years past. One woman travels from France every year to attend.