From books to bursaries

The McGill Book Fair takes place Oct. 20-21 at Redpath Hall. Find out how the Fair helps students like Jane B. Hood bursary winner Sarina Isenberg with the funds it raises.

Jane B. Hood bursary winner Sarina Isenberg (centre) and the McGill Book Fair volunteers whose hard work made her bursary possible. / Photo: Adam Scotti

Funds raised in annual Book Fair help lessen students’ financial burden

By Neale McDevitt

Like any Honours English Literature student, Sarina Isenberg loves a good read. But, as the recipient of the Jane B. Hood bursary for the second straight year, Isenberg has grown to appreciate the intrinsic value of a good book more than ever.

Awarded each year to an English Literature undergraduate, the bursary was endowed in 2008 by the earnings of the McGill Book Fair – the University’s annual book bonanza in which thousands of used tomes are sold at cut-rate prices. The bursary was named after Jane Hood, who coordinated the Book Fair for 30 years until her death in 2008.

For Isenberg, news that she had earned the bursary for a second time couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment. Entering her fourth year of studies (she also has Minors in Psychology and World Religions), the Toronto native was facing a financial crunch as some of her scholarships were ending.

“Ever since my father’s company went bankrupt in the mid-90s, our family has been in a tight financial situation,” said Isenberg. “I’ve had to pay my way through school and it isn’t always easy. Getting this bursary [for a total of some $5000 over two years] is absolutely fantastic.”

Working summers ever since she was legally allowed, Isenberg also holds down two, and sometimes three, jobs during the semester to help defray some of her expenses. On top of taking a full course load this year, she is the research assistant for two McGill professors while also working at the Office for Students with Disabilities.

As happy as Isenberg is to receive the bursary, the people responsible for making it a reality are even more thrilled. “When we met Sarina we just swooned,” said Victoria Lees, McGill’s former Secretary-General and current Book Fair coordinator. “We have no say in who gets the bursary but if we had dreamed up an ideal recipient it would have been Sarina.”

And friendship has its privileges. Isenberg says the Book Fairies, the self-named group of mostly female volunteers “of a certain age” who sift through and price truckloads of books from February to October, “have given me first dibs on certain items, which is a great perk,” she said.

Isenberg’s one concern is that most people in the McGill community don’t fully appreciate the hard work that goes into making the Book Fair such a success year after year – or that the proceeds from each sale go toward creating student bursaries. [For example, last year, $75,000 was donated to the University to create a student bursary for the Schulich School of Music]

“These women are so wonderful,” she said. “And nobody knows better than me what an impact their dedication can have on someone’s life. Being associated with them is really a very special honour for me.”

The McGill Book Fair will be held on Oct. 20-21 at Redpath Hall from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.