Chicago's Beloved Newberry Library Book Fair Faces Sudden Closure

Chicago's Beloved Newberry Library Book Fair Faces Sudden ClosureSource: Google Street View
Jo Marquez
Published on October 24, 2023

Chicago's annual Newberry Library Book Fair came to a close after almost four decades, leaving many in the city's book community in shock and disappointment. The venerable event previously brought together thousands of literature lovers to peruse a substantial collection of donated books, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Gail Kern Paster, the library's interim president, noted that the fair's quick closure came about due to becoming incompatible with the library's mission of preserving and widening its collection, and also being a serious drain on the resources. Critics, however, felt the decision was short-sighted, citing the fair's broader value, such as engaging the public and enhancing the library's brand.

The Newberry Book Fair, inaugurated in 1985, attracted roughly 3,000 visitors annually, and its closure has prompted expressions of personal loss from long-term attendees. Melissa Sherwin, who has attended the fair for about 20 years, found the library's justification unsatisfactory and is hopeful for a more adequate explanation to console the fair's loyal patrons, as mentioned in the Chicago Sun-Times

The fair also acted as an effective outreach tool for the library, drawing in crowds, and potentially increasing access to its vast collection. Attendee Heather Kenny viewed the closure as lacking empathy, highlighting the event's unique role in fostering patron interest and interaction with the library. The termination, some fear, will remove their incentive to visit the institution. Sentiments of loss have been reverberating on social media, with numerous users sharing their sorrow over the abrupt termination of the event, as per Block Club Chicago.

According to Newberry's representatives, the decision followed an array of thorough conversations about the book fair's future, particularly after the 2022 adoption of a new strategic plan. They expressed their gratitude for the numerous volunteers and attendees who helped make the event a success. They also stressed the library's renewed focus on engaging the community more substantially through their collection, exhibitions, and free programs as part of aligning with the Newberry mission, details Block Club Chicago.

Within the scope of strategic refocusing, the Newberry Library continues to accept donations of used books, but will now retail them throughout the year via the library's bookstore and at its programs instead. The resources salvaged from the termination of the annual book fair will be redirected toward increasing public access to their collection of approximately 1.6 million books, 600,000 maps, 1,300 archival collections, and over a million digital images. The library's strategic plan further includes upcoming exhibitions, Chicago Storytelling events, and the new Pattis Family Foundation Chicago Book Award that promotes books enriching public understanding of the city, furthers Block Club Chicago.

The book fair's cessation symbolizes a notable shift in Chicago's literary landscape. However, it remains to be seen if the library's new strategic plan can generate the same fervor and endorsement from the community as the now-defunct book fair, added the Chicago Sun-Times.