An Oak Park tradition that book lovers have counted on for 49 years until COVID-19 hit has again been shelved. For the second year, the Annual Book Fair, traditionally held in late July or early August and run by the Friends of the Oak Park Public Library, is cancelled.  

According to the library website, “This decision was influenced by several COVID-19-related factors, including the state’s public gathering limits and having no access to the Oak Park and River Forest High School’s cafeteria due to construction.” 

Friends President Joe Larscheid said another factor was a concern for not having enough donations, which includes primarily books, but also some music. Most donations come into the library throughout the year, but Oak Park Library was not accepting donations to be cautious about virus transmission. Larscheid said there was concern the sales offerings would not be as robust as in the past.    

Friends is a nonprofit, membership organization. Membership dues, monetary donations and the Book Fair supports programs such as the annual Barbara Ballinger Lecture. Oak Park native and author Claire Lombardo spoke virtually in 2020. Friends also helps support music programs and author visits for adult and children’s programming at the library. 

Larscheid describes the support it provides as a “bonus” and said the Oak Park Library does not rely on its funding and would still have their programming in place without Friends. 

To continue to support library programming while the Book Fair is on hiatus, money in reserves is available, Larscheid said. While Annual Book Fairs of the past grossed more than $40,000, by 2019, Larscheid said that amount had gone down to the low $30,000s, presumably reflecting the move to ebooks or other forms of entertainment competing with books. At the same time, costs have risen, netting Friends closer to $20,000 in 2019.

Friends have “high hopes” to hold and celebrate the 50th Book Fair in 2022. T-shirts are being planned for the event. Also in process is the location search, which includes talking to real estate owners with large empty spaces, like the old Marshall Fields’ building or former Gap/Pier One and looking at the middle schools. The space is needed for two to three weeks to accommodate sorting and a weekend-long sale. All these sites have had their issues however — owners not   to commit in case they get a tenant; schools worried about gym floors getting damaged. And, of course, COVID is also a concern.

“We need people to get vaccinated so we can hold these types of events,” Larscheid said. The next Book Fair will be held “when it is safe to have it and we find a venue,” he said.  

Recognizing the changes affecting the Book Fair, which includes decreased book inventory overall before the pandemic, Friends is exploring other options such as an in-person fundraiser or trivia event.  

Other options to donate books

Without the Book Fair, the Oak Park Public Library is not accepting book donations and is directing residents to take their reading material elsewhere. Some suggested locations aim to help others.

Chicago Books to Women in Prison has a Chicago location that accepts donations and serves incarcerated women in multiple states. They have specific needs which can be seen on their website (chicagobwp.org/how-to-help/donations/#books).

 Open Books accepts donations through drop bins, their West Loop store or will pick up. They sell donations to fund literacy programs. They also give books away as part of their programs and are especially in need of high-quality children’s titles. (www.open-books.org/donate-books)

Other options are Little Free Libraries (littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap) and The Goodwill Donation Center, 1900 Harlem Ave., North Riverside.

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