Object Lesson III

Not all of the icons of the Book Fair had staying power. Some of them, like our classic book bags, were part of the parade which has passed. Circumstances change as the world turns around, and some things, like the pay phones by the restrooms, linger only in the memory. (Pay phones are an obsolete device invented the day Alexander Graham Bell left his cell phone at home; look it up in Wikipedia.)

The first thing you saw when you entered the Book Fair, once upon a time, was the Reference Section, just to your right. Yes, if you walk into the Book Fair in a couple of weeks, the Reference Section will be on your right in Room 6. But in the beginning, we were given this tall metal rolling bookcase, with shelves on both sides. We wheeled this into the East Hall (Ruggles Hall, Room 6) and set it at an angle. We then filled it with dictionaries and thesauri, and hoped no one would try to roll the whole thing to Checkout. To this day, I do not know where this came from every year, nor where it went afterward. (I don’t recall seeing any wheeled double-sided bookcases during the big stacks renovation project.) But for five or six years, when you stepped into the Book Fair, this diagonal reference stack greeted you on entrance.

The Children’s Section lasted many years longer, in vaguely the spot where you’ll find it nowadays. During the Great Newberry Renovation of the 1980s, the restrooms which had been there for many years were moved to the other end of the first floor, leaving behind some white tile, a sink, and a door which opened from the second floor onto a twelve-foot drop. There were three offices across from the sink, and outside these offices, using an Oriental rug, some wooden bookcases, and a small two-step riser, a little nook for children’s books was built each year. When, in the next renovation, this area became the East Gallery (NEW Gallery to us old-timers) it was decided that we could do without the carpet and the tall bookcases and make something out of tables and foldable bookcases. It’s not as cozy, perhaps, but it wasn’t the same without the old restroom tile on the floor anyhow.

Libraries are known for keeping books, but few outside the field know how fanatic librarians are for keeping statistics as well. For many, many years, the greeters at the front door were issued a Clicker, which they were to click each time someone passed the desk, so we’d know how many people had attended the Book Fair. As happens with any technical advice, sometimes the device doesn’t work and sometimes the person working it doesn’t. Greeters are too busy giving directions and handing out bags and maps to be sure the clicker has registered that pressure of the thumb. And there are those who MUST overthink the process. “I’ve figured out how to count children,” one greeter explained to me proudly. “I just click three times for ever five kids.” Why children don’t count as entire people instead of just sixty percent was something I didn’t feel like asking. Eventually, we decided we would count the number of transactions at Checkout instead: the tally sheets are numbered, and no one gets two-thirds of one. Mind you, no one gets to make that fun clicking sound this way.

The Book Fair is held in July, which is almost always in summer. In thirty years, the ventilation system of the Newberry has undergone its own changes. For many years, massive Floor Fans stood in the corners of Room 6, trying to keep people cool enough to buy books. They were quiet for their size, which means they did not sound exactly like LARGE airplane engines. But they were loud enough to allow people to tell their spouses, “I didn’t hear you saying we’d spent enough money; it was those fans!”

So we…yes, that’s why we installed those pay phones, because the fans made it too loud to talk on a cell phone. You can look that up in a book in our new, improved Reference Section.

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