A white box which I have been ignoring came to the surface again this week, and I started to work my way through it. Sometimes, when a collection is simply of too much value, of too great a significance, I like to let it rest for a while, until I have the strength to push through the contents. A box which cradles within it material which changed the lives of a generation deserves respect, and even fear, before you peruse the contents.
What we have here is Evelyn J. Lampe’s personal file of Book Fair documents covering the years 1985 through 1994. We have the long-forgotten very first Book Fair poster (looks like it was mimeographed on 8 1/2 x 11 paper), the very first Book Fair Volunteer Identifiers (before we got the red aprons, we used some McBlimp buttons sent over by McDonald’s), and the very first Book Fair volunteer list (with the very first notes on who failed to show up for their shifts.)
The papers from that first year emphasize how tentative and half-hearted the Newberry was about that first Book Fair. It was scheduled to coincide with the Gold Coast Art Fair, so there would be people visiting the neighborhood (no one would come out just to buy books.) It would be held on a Saturday (maybe Sunday too, it says here, depending on the volume of donations.) There would be a grand and glorious tent in the parking lot, filled with balloons (they held it indoors: cheaper that way) and they were looking for four women to volunteer to take turns wearing Alice in Wonderland costumes, the better to attract attention. And the question was asked in a post-Fair wrap-up session: does the benefit of the Book Fair outweigh the disruption to staff, and does a Research Library want the sort of publicity which comes with holding a public book sale?
Well, the answers to those questions don’t seem to be recorded (and, indeed, people are still asking both questions today) but apparently the money was good, and the publicity positive, because they decided to try again in 1986. The rest is history
Some of this history was unknown to me: in those golden years I was not part of the Book Fair Committee meetings and missed some stuff. In 1985 and part of 1986, for example, they seem to have tried to schedule all book pick-ups on weekends, when the Library would get a special rate from Budget Rent-a-Car and sign up volunteers to drive out and make the pick-ups. The idea of a special preview existed from the beginning, but there was some debate over who should be invited to it: Associates? Book dealers? Trustees and their friends? It LOOKS–although the documents are perfectly clear on this–as though it was 1989 before the Thursday night preview for Associates was instituted. (We’d have the preview on Thursday and then have Friday to restock and tidy up before the full Book Fair opened on Saturday).
I find I have completely deleted from memory the 1992 Book Fair Raffle. Local business were asked to donate prizes for a raffle which would bring eager customers flocking to the Newberry: dinners for two at neighborhood restaurants, a weekend stay at local hotels, a discount at Budget Rent-a-Car (which remained a Book fair supporter for several years). I have here the report which says that so far, the Book Fair Committee has collected a set of bathroom scales and a cordless iron. I also have a piece of paper which notes, in large letters, that it has been decided not to hold a raffle this year.
I’m only a third of the way through the box, and at that, I’ve skipped all these lists of notable acquisitions for the Library’s collection, and ALL these notes about the capabilities of individual volunteers. (THOSE pages may have to be closed to researchers for fifty years, just to protect the guilty.)