The Chancellor’s Committee Book Fair returns in September

22 August 2023
The hugely popular Book Fair enters its 36th year
As a much-loved event on the University calendar, students, alumni, academics, staff and community members can look forward to a Book Fair brimming with bargains.
Maggie McElhill sitting on a table with her fellow Book Room volunteers working in the background

Book Room volunteers, Maggie McElhill, Janet Oakley, Janice McAdam and Bruce McAdam, working hard to prepare for the Chancellor's Committee Book Fair.

On a leafy street in Newtown, mountains have quietly been moving. Over the course of the year, thousands of pre-loved books have been deposited in a blue collection bin nestled under a tree outside the Shepherd Centre. Every weekday, a team of dedicated volunteers arrives to gather them up and add them to the pile. 

Inside, each book is examined for its content, categorised, priced, and packed away. In some special cases, volunteers use skills from their previous roles in libraries and archives to research rare titles or restore old and delicate books to their former glory before they’re sealed away. Boxes number in the hundreds, lining every wall and occasionally stretching above the volunteers’ heads. Every room is a rainbow of cardboard repurposed from its original role as beer casing and household appliance packaging into a temporary resting place for the books. 

Book Room volunteers reviewing an old copy of a book over the work table

Volunteers Janet Oakley and Lydia Bushell discuss the restoration of a book before its sale.

In September, the Book Room Convenor will open the doors and volunteers will ferry the stacks through the back roads of the Inner West to the Great Hall for the annual Chancellor’s Committee Book Fair. 

First run in 1986 as ‘Bookfest’, the Book Fair is entirely organised and run by the volunteers of the Chancellor’s Committee. Their efforts save over 50,000 books annually from landfill and in some cases, have gone on to significantly benefit the wider community. In early 2022, the Chancellor’s Committee donated several boxes to the Lismore Library to replenish their collection following the devastating flooding in the region.  

Book room volunteer restoring books

Lydia Bushell uses her restoration skills to piece delicate older books back together before they're packed up in preparation for the Book Fair.

But for the most part, money raised by the sales goes back into the University community. The Chancellor's Committee's grants have funded Sydney Motorsport, the University’s student-run multi-disciplinary racing team, and helped the USYD Rocketry Team achieve victory in the Spaceport American Cup. In return, the club members are among the student volunteers who help move the mountains of boxes to the Great Hall and arrange them for sale.

Book room volunteer cataloguing books

Janice McAdam reviewing books for cataloguing and pricing.

Donations range from bestsellers to cult classics, textbooks to rare texts and everything in between. Over four days, the Great Hall is bustling with bargain-hunting students looking to save money on their required reading, academics seeking an elusive piece for their office shelves, alumni revisiting old haunts for a worthy cause, and community members after discounted best sellers. 

While volunteers note that the Book Fair is always busiest on the opening Saturday, the last two days have their own drawcards. Visitors can fill a box with books of their choice for just $10 on the Tuesday and $5 on the Wednesday. Savvy shoppers can pick their strategy – arrive bright and early on Saturday to get the first choice of all the best titles, or visit in the last two days and grab a bulk-buy bargain. Or, if your bookshelf isn’t already bowing under the weight, you can do both. 

The 2023 Chancellor’s Committee Book Fair will take place from 10.00am - 4.00pm Saturday 9th September – Wednesday 13th September. 

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