McGill Book Fair 2.0

Last year, just when it looked like the iconic McGill Book Fair was going to close its doors forever, a pair of young McGill grads stepped forward to breathe new life into it. Now they are just days away from leading the event for the first time.
Jonathan Haines (left) and Fraser Dickson, co-organizers of the McGill Book Fair amidst just a small sampling of the items that will go on sale Tuesday, Oct. 23. / Photo: Adam Scotti.

Iconic event is back for 41st edition – this time under new management

By Neale McDevitt

Like any gripping story, the plotline of the McGill Book Fair has a number of elements that would make any author proud.

A feel-good element? Check (Since it first opened its doors in 1971, the Fair has raised more than $1.5 for student scholarships.).

A colourful cast of characters? Check (The majority of “book fairies” who sort, price and stack the books and CDs are mostly retired seniors, some of whom are in the 80s.).

Drama? Check (Going into last year’s 40th anniversary edition of the Book Fair, coordinator Victoria Lees had announced she was retiring from the book biz – and no one was stepping forward to fill her shoes. It looked like the 2011 Fair would be the last.).

Plot twists and eleventh-hour rescues? Check (Literally after closing the doors on last year’s Fair, Lees was approached by Fraser Dickson, a recent McGill grad who said he wanted to take over from Lees to keep the iconic McGill event alive. Dickson was joined by another McGill grad, Jonathan Haines, as co-coordinator for this year’s edition.).

And, of course, the inevitable sequel. Check (Without missing a beat, the 41st Book Fair will run from Oct. 23-25 at Redpath Hall, selling some tens of thousands of used books and CDs at cut-rate prices in every category from architecture to zoology.).

Something old, something new

“It’s been great [being one of the Fair’s new co-coordinators] because it really gives you a full-spectrum understanding as to how much goes into it,” says Haines, who graduated from McGill in 2010 in Linguistics. “We’ve been working on the transition and trying to keep the same Book Fair that people have known and loved for so long but at the same time making it work more effectively.”

While Haines and Dickson have tweaked some of the behind-the-scenes procedures in an effort to streamline the team’s efforts, they have maintained the most important element of the Book Fair – namely, that proceeds go directly to student scholarships.

There have been some changes in personnel, says Haines, but about two-thirds of the book fairies are still active. “Most of the people we have replaced had dropped out for various reasons, so we took that opportunity to replace them with new recruits,” says Haines. “We’ve definitely recruited some younger people because moving books is a physical job and we will recruit even more next year. But it’s great that so many of the more experienced people have stayed on.”

Haines was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to bring new people on board. “I expected recruiting to be more difficult but when we started to publicize our need last year we got an amazing response – so much so that we now have a 19-page list of names of volunteers,” he says. “This is such a great event and people are really excited to be able to be involved in something that they have always only seen as a customer.”

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Just a few days from the actual Book Fair, Haines is pleased with how everything is progressing according to schedule – well, almost everything. “There are always books left over after the Fair,” says Haines. “In the past there have been charities –usually found at the last minute – that arrange to pick up what’s left. Well, we’re in that phase again. We are again looking for a charity or charities that are interested in taking some 5,000 books off our hands. We’ll recycle books that we can’t get rid off but if anyone representing a charity is reading this and are looking for books we are certainly open to it.”

Although Haines admits he “is not a book guy,” he is excited about a collection of books that will be on sale this year. “We had a donation from a man who passed away in the Eastern Townships. He was Austrian so there are a lot of German books, but many of them are very old,” said Haines. “We’re talking the 1700s and early 1800s, so if you like rare German books it’ll be a good year for you. Otherwise, it promises to be another great Fair with something for everyone.”

The McGill Book Fair will be held at Redpath Hall and will run from 1 p.m.-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23; and 9 a.m.- 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24, and Thursday, Oct. 25. For more information, go here.

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Chris Gaston
11 years ago

I have always wondered whether the McGill Library is able to have a preview and “first dibs” on any material they are missing – for the price being askedof course. I realise that all the books cannot be checked against the McGill collections but hope that ‘collections’ like the German-language books mentioned in the article or items of local interest – local medical and nursiang history being one of our interests) are not ‘lost’ to the wider University community.

Thelma DeJoseph
11 years ago

Good question. Have you asked?