Looking over pictures that turned up of a Book Fair Past, I found a shot that included just the merest hint of checkout volunteers seated at cash registers. Some young Book Fair customers have never seen us use cash registers, among other things. So here is a brief, hardly comprehensive, list of Things You Don’t See Nowadays.
Cash Registers: The same thing happened in the early days of college athletics. The administration didn’t take much notice until somebody realized the amount of money involved was growing. In the same way, our checkout came under scrutiny. So for about four years after that, we rented cash registers. Then for about five years we didn’t use cash registers. Then for about three years we used cash registers again. Now we don’t. Cash registers cause some issues, see: they have to be picked up, they have to be hauled over, they have to be paid for, and they have to be plugged in. (Like every building built before, oh, 1970 or so, the library has nowhere near the number of electrical outlets people would use, given the chance.) Someday, of course, we will use no cash at all: we’ll run our phone across your phone to swap numbers. Until then, there will always be somebody who announces, “I know! Why don’t we use cash registers at checkout!”
Stilt Walkers: To the best of my recollection, the Book Fair used stilt walkers only in 1985. The Newberry used them for other events, though, and the Very Merry Bazaar had stilt walkers several years running (which is very exciting, if you’ve ever seen a stilt walker run.) We decided early on that stilt walkers, as exciting as they are, do not add anything to our Book Fair. We never heard why they were such regulars in the first place. Some institutions have mascots in fur suits, while others have dunk tanks: each institution seems to pick out its own symbol of revelry. Who decided that the late Twentieth Century Newberry would be known for its stilt walkers?
The Metal Reference Bookcase: For much of the late 1980s, the Newberry would roll a two-sided seven-foot metal bookcase for us to use. Just one. I never heard why, and I was never told why someone decided to stop lending it to us. But for four or five years, the first thing a customer saw on entering the Book Fair was a metal bookcase set at an angle to the door of Ruggles Hall. It was filled with dictionaries and thesauri, and largely blocked anybody from turning right as they entered. Why this seemed like a good idea, I don’t recall, but no one ever complained about it, so I guess it worked.
The Records and Fine Art Section: For a dozen or more years (after the departure of the rolling metal bookcase), if you entered Ruggles Hall, you would find records for sale along the wall to your left. On the radiator behind these boxes of records was a line-up of small to medium framed artworks which had also come in for sale. Now I DO know why we stopped doing that. The radiator’s gone. It disappeared in the renovation at the end of the Twentieth Century, which also reorganized the doors along that wall. In the modern Book Fair, we have the Discard Table there, while records are in room 5 and artworks in rooms 2, 4, and 5.
The Mid-Lobby Greeter: He just wanted to help: this was where we assigned him. A tall, distinguished man with a nice suit, a gentle voice, and a genial manner stood in the middle of the lobby greeted customers as they arrived. You never would have suspected that most of us were a little afraid of him. He didn’t turn up one year and we never learned where he went. After so many of his stories about Mayor Daley, Cardinal Bernadin, the Nazi Party, and the Jewish World Conspiracy working together to ruin his life, we were not entirely surprised. He claimed to have founded the Newberry Library Book Fair, too.
Twenty-Five Cent Books: Yeah, this is really the only thing on the list I’m especially nostalgic about, but you’ll probably see stilt walkers before you see any more of these.