Library book fair appeals to frugal, collectors alike

Sheila Burt

The latest Harry Potter release has already passed, but Chicago is about to be cast under the spell of yet another book phenomenon this weekend.

Two floors of Chicago’s Newberry Library will be transformed this weekend into a book fair with nearly 100,000 volumes on sale.

The library’s 21st annual book fair starts today at noon and runs until Sunday. Organizers said they expect more than 2,000 people to fill the library each day in search of great bargains or rare collectibles.

“This year, we have a really wonderful collection of art history books,” said Deter Wisniewski, vice president for advancements at the Newberry Library. “We also have a strong cookbook section and we have a very strong vinyl selection, vinyl as in records. They range from jazz, show tunes to classical music.”

Books cost anywhere from 50 cents to a few dollars, while the collectibles section will feature rare books at higher prices.

The most expensive book is a first edition and autographed copy of Sara Paretsky’s “Indemnity only.” The 1982 mystery book follows the adventures and investigations of a top Chicago private eye. The book is on sale for $1,500. Paretsky is a Chicago-based writer who has developed a strong following throughout the nation.

As thousands of guests rummage through stacks of books, their money will benefit the library to help with its programming.

“We have a very loyal and faithful following,” Wisniewski said. “It’s not unusual to find a popular book has come back to the book fair and sold again.”

The books will be organized by subject and can be found throughout the library’s first and lower levels. People interested in donating books for next year’s fair should wait until August to drop off any items, Wisniewski said.

She recommended that attendees bring one item: a comfortable pair of shoes.

“There are people who spend hours here,” Wisniewski said.

The book fair coincides with the Bughouse Square Debates across the street in Washington Square Park. The event features music and historical reenactments along with an open-mic session. The debates will be held on Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.

The Newberry Library is located at 60 W. Walton Street. To get there from Evanston, take the Red Line to the Chicago stop.

The fair is open Thursday and Friday from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission to the fair is free.

For more information, call 312-255-3510 or visit the Newberry Library’s Web site at

Reach Sheila Burt at [email protected].