When the Book Fair was started, way, way back in the last century, it had three missions, and one of those was to heighten awareness of the Newberry Library in its own neighborhood, just sort of saying “Hey there! We’re a library and if you like books, you’re our kind of people!”
You might not think that would be necessary. But I was reminded recently of a longtime volunteer who was picking up books for the first or second Book Fair and taking them down in an elevator. Another person on the elevator asked what was going on, and the volunteer explained about getting books for the Book Fair at the Newberry Library. “Over on Walton Street, across from the park.”
“Oh, is that what that place is!” exclaimed the fellow traveler. “I always thought that was a private club, because they just built those squash courts out back.” (The parking lot was new at the time.)
I actually get a lot of that, from the member of city government who thought this was the (defunct) John Crerar Library to the cab driver who told me, “Newberry Library? I thought it was the Spertus Museum!” That’s better than the people who drop off their library books, thinking we’re a branch of the Chicago Public Library. (This is tough, since these are invariably brought to me on the assumption that they are Book Fair donations. Honest, there is no shuttle between here and the CPL.)
We have fielded questions from people who thought this was the Ogden School (vacant lot now, across the street), the Scottish Rite Temple (across the street kittycorner), and the John J. Glessner House or the Excalibur Nightclub (similar architecture, different buildings.) I even, honest and for truly, once answered a knock on the loading dock door and found a timid young woman who asked if this was really Oprah’s house.
“No,” I said. “That’s an entirely different Book Club.”