VBF | Newberry


We’re working on it, honest we are. But you have to cut us some slack, watermelon crepes. This is a library, not a tech lab. And we had very little warning, and have had only three months to work on it so far.

We just don’t know yet how we can take you to a Virtual Book Fair.

Yes yes yes. We could, under highly sanitary and cautious conditions, load all the books onto tables and bookcases the way we always do, with the box bookcases underneath and the clever little displays of oddities in Collectibles, and maybe even a silent auction selection of three amazing donated items. We could then have someone walk up and down the aisles with a camera fixed between their eyes, photographing everything you might look at, so you could simulate, at your own pace, walking along the aisles and even peering beneath the tables at the treasures lined up there. We could record the open boxes of the sets, with their prices marked on the flap of the box, and we could even have volunteers walking among the tables, so you could gaze awestruck on the countenance of uncle Blogsy again, or that lady who helped you find Batman and the Cheetah Caper last year. And, trust me, there would be no trouble thinking up a virtual checkout system whereby you could pay for things.

But there’s so much we don’t have the technology to duplicate for you. I don’t think anyone has the technology yet to duplicate the excitement of waiting in line outside until the doors open. You’ll be sitting before your computer, sipping a Kool-Aid julep with plenty of ice. It won’t be the same.

We cannot duplicate the pleasure of finding a book you like, opening it to your favorite passage and reading a page or two before you summon the courage to turn to the upper right corner of the first white page and check the price. We cannot duplicate the sound of the bookend hitting the floor as you put the book back where it fit perfectly well a moment ago. (See, while you were reading, someone else came and jammed a discarded book from another category into that space and hurried on. We can’t duplicate that, either.)

There is no way we can recreate the joy of grabbing that signed novel by the retired Confederate spy one second before another person’s hand reached for it. We cannot mock up the experience of holding two nearly identical copies of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in your hands while you decide which one has the crisper dust jacket, and needs to come home with you. No computer can duplicate your double take as you check and see whether that really, really was a copy of the Book of Genesis written in Hip-Hop.

We can send you a lot of experiences online. But how can we send the feeling of relief as you unload three plastic bags of Art Books on the good folks at the Squirreling Corner before heading back for the Art shelves to load up three more? Is it really the same if you just listen to us on some downloadble sound file saying “Noon to eight p.m. Thursday and Friday, ten A.M. to six P.M. Saturday and Sunday” or “The restrooms are straight ahead and turn to your right”?

Even with the technology available to us for meetings and parties, we don’t quite have a way where you can bump into somebody at the Mystery table and say “Oh, you read Carter Dickson, too? I always send copies of The Cavalier’s Cup to my grandchildren when they turn twelve.” We cannot duplicate your random encounter with a perfect stranger who is willing to stand and deliver a ten minute lecture on which books on the history of Evanston are worth reading and which ones are not.

These are just a few of the things we need to iron out before we can create the VBF (Virtual Book Fair). It might just be easier to invent little robots who would run around a real Book Fair and do these things for you without risking infection. Of course, if we programmed them to be exactly like you, they’d take them back to the robot garage and stack them up to read when they got around to it, and you, personally, wouldn’t get to see the books.

See? Always a glitch.