When you walk into the South Cafeteria at OPRF during the first week of August, the sight of so many books can be overwhelming, boxes upon boxes, on and under tables, spilling into an adjacent gym. Volunteer librarians walk among the tables, sorting the books into categories; the only hint that the cafeteria is not a makeshift library is that the organizer, Jeff Kallay, occasionally returns to a small table in the middle of the room to crack open the cash register.
Sales start early for each of the Oak Park Public Library's annual book fairs?#34;volunteers get first dibs on the books they sort?#34;but there's plenty of reading material to go around. Kallay estimated that the Friends of the Oak Park Public Library, which organizes the book fair, sell 50-100,000 books a year. The revenue generated by the fair goes to support library projects like the summer reading programs and After-hours Teen Coffeehouse.
This year, the 35th annual fair will begin Friday, 7-10 p.m., Aug. 5. Admission is $5. On Saturday, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., admission is free. On Sunday, admission is free for two hours for invited non-profit organizations, then members of the public can come in from 1 to 5 p.m. and purchase as many books as they want for $5. On Monday, the leftover books have to be thrown out.
"By 7 o'clock [Friday], the line goes all the way around the corner. When we open the doors, it's like the running of the bulls," Kallay said. It's understandable; the average price of a book at the fair is less than a dollar.
Some, however, are worth considerably more. Jim Gibson, who worked as a rare and used book dealer for 20 years, has priced the rare and collectible books at the fair for the past six. "A lot of [pricing] is guesswork," he said. "A lot of it is online research ... on Sunday, I spent five or six hours online researching rare books. That gives me an idea of what we might be able to get for ours."
Some interesting items available this weekend are a book about George Washington, published in 1947 or 1948 as part of a set; Gibson could find only one other copy of it online, and the seller was asking for $250. The minimum bid for it at the library will probably be $50-75. The book fair will also feature a first edition mystery writen under a pseudonym by Cornell Woolrich, who wrote Rear Window.
Bonnie Vanderhill, who has been sorting for four years, considers finding rare books to be a benefit of volunteering. "On Friday night, I found a first edition of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, a first edition with a perfect cover. I don't know how much it'll make for the library ... but it's so fun." A couple of years ago, Vanderhill's husband, Terry, found a book on Louis Sullivan, complete with color plates. Terry, an architecture enthusiast, knew that a trade bookstore carried the book for about $200.
"It's ... that lottery feeling," Vanderhill said. "Maybe I'll find that one hardcover in perfect condition I'll want on my shelf." At a fair with this many books, finding books you'll like shouldn't be too difficult.