Treasure Hunt at the Newberry






There are 125,000 reasons why you should head to the library this month. At the Newberry Library’s Book Fair, running from Thursday, July 27 through Sunday, July 30, you’ll find just that many used books and collectibles, ranging from a Chubby Checker 45 from the 1960s to a children’s version of Moby Dick—it’s a treasure hunter’s paradise.


The Newberry’s Dan Crawford.

We asked Dan Crawford, who has headed the Book Fair since 1995, to tell us about some of this year’s most notable offerings.

“I discovered that Jimmy Stewart is quite a humorous poet. We have an autographed copy of a book of his poems in addition to an autographed autobiography of Ingrid Bergman.

“A beautifully illustrated book by a French designer from the early part of the last century is wonderful. He depicts a leading ballerina of the time in costumes he thought she should wear. This year the library gave us duplicates from its collection of books on ballet, so that is a section to be anticipated this year.”

The mild-mannered mutton-chopped impresario, who has himself priced almost all of the books—some of which are on sale for $3 and less—never loses sight of a possible diamond in the rough, which might end up in the Newberry’s own collection. Often these arrive from wonderfully unexpected places.

“I received a call from a woman in her eighties who was putting in new floors in her apartment and had things that she no longer needed. She had no family and thought that the Newberry might like her grandfather’s and his grandfather’s treasures from the New Bedford, Massachusetts whaling days.  

“She also gave us World War I posters, several paintings on glass, including one of the defeat of Napoleon, and an amazing scroll which measures 48 feet long by 12 inches tall. The scroll shows the town of New Bedford with wagons labeled Barnum rolling through it. Was it the Barnum and Bailey circus, founded in 1871? This will definitely be a part of our collection.”


Unfurling the 48-foot long scroll.


A nod to Barnum and Bailey?


A wooded image from the scroll.

Each year Dan brings about 1000 donated books and other items to curators to see if they should be a part of the library’s collection. Approximately 10 percent are chosen, usually something not duplicated in the permanent collection.

Even though some booksellers, collectors, and enthusiasts start lining up at 2 am the night before, there are plenty of books to go around. Dan was proud to announce that the number of books available is up ten percent this year.

Used books often begin their adoption process by appearing on Dan’s doorstep, the receiving dock behind the Newberry. Named for Dan’s aunt Evelyn Lampe, who directed the Book Fair from its beginnings in 1985, the dock receives countless donations throughout the year.

With a library degree and an encyclopedic knowledge of books, Dan sorts by categories including novels, mysteries, nonfiction, children’s, cookbooks, and sci-fi thrillers.

Introduce yourself to Dan as you explore. If you mention an author you are searching for, chances are that he can direct you to just the right table—it is very hard to stump him when you ask about a particular writer.

Dan himself is a reader with wide-ranging interests.

“I usually have bookmarks in 8 or 9 books at a time. Right now I am reading about British cinema and another book on Christian mythmakers that describes fantasy authors.”

We asked how Dan prepares for the four-day marathon of book buying, wondering: Does he plan a vacation afterwards?

“I stop writing my daily blog about a week before, and the night before I always watch The Longest Day. I figure if those people could get through that day, what’s managing a little book fair?

“I have to clean up after the fair, so I can’t just run off. And there’s next year’s fair to plan.”

The Book Fair kicks off months of excitement for the Newberry, the world-renowned independent research library built in 1887.   Timed for the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses, the Newberry will open “Religious Change and Print, 1450-1700” on September 14. Featuring over 150 rare items from the Newberry’s collection, the exhibition will explore the subversive ideas Martin Luther unleashed with his Theses, how print accelerated the resulting social upheaval, and how people reacted to the unprecedented rate of change.

In January, the Newberry will embark on a six-month renovation project to transform the 25,000 square feet of its historic main floor. The renovation will result in both redesigned and new spaces, such an information center where visitors can learn how to use the Newberry’s collection and its many resources, a climate-controlled seminar room, and a permanent exhibition gallery dedicated to the ongoing display of the collection strengths in books, maps, and manuscripts.

Newberry President, David Spadafora, commented:

“The Newberry is, first and foremost, a physical space built on bringing our users into direct contact with the legacy of the past and into conversation with one another and our staff. The renovation will help the Newberry realize its commitment even more fully by creating a vibrant setting that supports curiosity, channels it in new and potentially unexpected directions, and reflects the ways people learn today.”

He adds:

“The thousands of people who visit us during Book Fair are not only demonstrating the importance of printed books, but also they are ultimately supporting our year-round efforts to keep the Newberry collection free and open to the public through exhibitions, lectures, performances, and other activities.”




The Book Fair is held at the Newberry, 60 West Walton Street.

Book Fair Hours:

Thursday, July 27 – Friday, July 28: 12 – 8 pm

Saturday, July 29 – Sunday, July 30: 10 am – 6 pm

For more information, visit