That old book smell: Catch a whiff at Liberty Book Shop

There’s just something about an old, tattered book. Like a well-worn penny, one wonders of its journey over time. For a book, the hands and shelves it has graced, the places it has traveled, the lives impacted. I once accidentally left a borrowed copy of James Joyce’s “Dubliners” in a hotel room in Paris. Occasionally, for whatever reason (probably out of guilt), I’m reminded of the fact that I left my friend’s book in a foreign country and I wonder where it has traveled to now. Or where it even started.

The technology behind books may be evolving, but no e-reader can replace the intense admiration booklovers have for the yellowed, worn pages of their favorite novel. And the smell – oh, that smell. For the more intense bibliophiles, a perfume for booklovers called Paper Passion exists, and – you guessed it – it makes you smell like an old book.

Although the creators of Paper Passion may have concocted some mixture of artificial ingredients to imitate that precious smell, the best way to get a real whiff is to take a walk through a mom-and-pop used bookshop.

One such shop is still going strong despite the decline of many mom-and-pop bookshops: the Liberty Book Shop, 1 E. Park St., in the small town of Avis, about a 20 minute commute from Williamsport. On a Friday afternoon, the streets of Avis are quiet, but the large church-turned-bookshop is inviting. Fittingly, like the invitation-to-all message that many churches emanate, Liberty Book Shop sends the message (perhaps even through its name) for people of all types to come in and browse.

Upon walking into the shop – located inside of an old country church – the familiar used book scent is instantly acknowledged. Also sure to greet are the two bookshop cats, Lucky and Alice. Alice, a senior cat at the tender age of 14, sits in her favorite spot on top of a box of books near the entrance. Her age shows through her deep-breathed, click-clack purrs, while Lucky, a 1-year-old orange tabby cat, pounces around energetically between the tall bookshelves.

The woman who owns and operates Liberty Book Shop naturally has a passion for all-things print. Linda Roller, a native of upstate New York, has owned the shop since 1996. But on Christmas Eve of 2000, Roller gave herself a gift and purchased the old church, turning the pews into bookshelves.

The move from its previous location on Memorial Avenue was made simply because she had the chance.

“It’s probably the best buy I’ve ever made. I love the building, the light, the space. It’s a wonderful place to work,” she said.

Roller does a lot to keep busy, even outside of the bookshop, which she runs on her own. She also sells her books online (, where one can search her entire inventory of books. She ships publications all over the world.

Further involving books, reading and writing in her life, she writes for Mountain Home magazine and is a certified book appraiser.

“I appraise books, to some extent documents, papers – if it’s printed on paper, chances are I feel comfortable doing that,” she said.

“I love the challenge. I’ve looked at some extremely rare books.”

The shop is full of rare and curious old books in sections of all types: religion, journalism, science, art, fiction and much more. Roller even has pages from a book written in Latin from 1482. Liberty Book Shop boasts of having 45,000 volumes in the brick-and-mortar shop and more than 12,000 titles online.

“I’m strong in American politics, military, history and I have an exceptional religious section,” she said. Though it’s not an antiquarian shop (books prior to 1800) Liberty has books from the 19th and 20th centuries, and some from the 18th century.

Though in between the specialty-subject, old-and-rare books, one can still find cheap copies of best sellers like “Twilight.”

“Not proud of the ‘Twilight,’ ” she laughed. “But I have to have it. Someone’s gonna come in and ask for it,” she said.

Books have been a continuous thread throughout her life, though she added that they have kind of become a river.

She explained the importance of that passion and her choice to pursue what makes her happy:

“People who generally run book shops are passionate about books and reading. It’s not just a livelihood – it’s a passion. It has to be a passion. This is not a place to make a fortune,” she said.

Her passion certainly translates into her work. With each book that comes through her shop, chances are she has the ability to tell you a bit about its journey – where she got it, publishing and author information, and much more.

On a Friday afternoon, as the sunlight shines through the large church windows illuminating the shelves in a charming way, Roller is ringing out a customer and doing just that – giving a customer insight on his purchases.

Peter Trevouledes, of Hughesville, visits the store two to three times a year. At the moment, Roller is running a 1/3-off, end-of-the-year sale.

“Deals like this that Linda gives, gets me off of my duff,” he said.

But, he admits, he really comes to see Linda.

“The conversations with her, I enjoy them as much as the shopping. Linda gives me a lot of insight into the books that I buy and it helps me enjoy the experience even more,” he said.

With a large stack of about 15 books of all types (of which he jokingly said were “not enough to make my wife angry”), he wished Roller a happy Thanksgiving, bidding adieu until his next literary pilgrimage. And with his exit, the books begin a new journey.