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The Unfair Book Faire

June 23, 2006 00:43

Well, call that an annual event that I'll no longer be participating in. I'll start with a little background. The Plano Book Fair, which is held every year during the summer, is a 3 day event where you can purchase used, donated books for 75 cents to $1.50 each. Each year they have typically around 150,000 books for sale, and make about as much. Proceeds go toward various library functions for the city of Plano, TX.

The event rents out this huge convention hall for 4 days. 3 days for the sale, and the previous day for setup. Books for the sale are sorted year long by volunteers, are boxed up, and warehoused, and brought in on the setup day. Volunteers at the setup will take a box of books, which are sorted by category, cut the box open, take the books out of the box, and set them up on one of the many tables. As you can imagine, this is a task that requires quite a few manhours to complete. This has never been much of a problem though, as there are always plenty of volunteers available. As a token of gratitude for their efforts, the volunteers are allowed to purchase $25 worth of books on the day before the sale. If you've never witnessed opening night, that is quite a significant guesture. It can be quite a madhouse.

Well, that all changed this year. With no obvious warning, especially to the many volunteers who have done this annually for years and don't bother with signing up in advance, they decided to recind the ability to purchase books the day before... well, unless you're a "member", membership of which costs $35. The members get to come in the night before and purchase their books, and they're not required to do any work for this benefit. The volunteers get no special privelages at all.

Now, to avoid sounding like a whiny materialistic pig, I agree, it's their show, they can run it any way they like, and nowhere does it say I'm entitled to any benefits for this volunteering. I just falsely assumed things would work the same way they did the year before. Had there been a more concerted effort to notify the volunteers before they came in and set aside their box of books for purchase, perhaps we wouldn't have felt as insulted. We probably wouldn't have worked, but at least we'd understand. Maybe.

To make it more fun, we inquired as to the reason. Several were provided. On one hand, there were complaints that SOME volunteers didn't work the whole 3 hours that they're supposed to. Clearly, this is a good reason to punish everyone. Secondly, some of the paying members of Friends of the Plano Library were apparently upset that the volunteer riffraff were able to select books before they were, and apparently that tense political issue was taken care of as well.

The simple, not too difficult to read between the lines message that we got was, we don't work hard enough to deserve to get any books ahead of the crowd. And if we don't like it, we can just leave. They have plenty of help. I suspect a lot of their help didn't realize the tragedy of their situation until they tried to buy their box of books. "Oh dear, I'm terribly sorry about that. Thanks for all your hard work though. If you want to pay $35, you can join our little club and come back tonight, and maybe find some of the books you had picked out. In the meantime, we're going to put these back." And most of these words are verbatim what was told to us.

On top of all this, they decided that nobody younger than 14 will be allowed to attend the setup. I've been working there for 8 years and I've yet to see ANY problems with children. The children, in fact, help out as much as the adults do. Kids usually aren't dragged along to these things involuntarily. My step daughter worked two days there last year, and she was 11 at the time. Thursday night, in the middle of the madhouse, she was up on the stage hauling boxes and bags of books around for people who were storing them for later retrieval. And she definitely picked out her $25 worth of books, and spent a good part of the summer reading through them. This year, she was anxious to go again, begging us to let her skip swim practice for a day so she could go. Apparently she got the same message the rest of us did. She just doesn't work hard enough and isn't deserving of the privelage. I was still considering going down tonight and helping with the crowd, and asked if she wanted to go with me then, and she'd still have a chance to pick out her books before the sale started, but she had completely lost interest and wanted nothing further to do with it.

For that matter, neither do I.

There's a chance that a lot of these problems will be taken care of after this year. But what's the use now? A lot of the dedicated volunteers, people who have come there year after year, who got insulted and walked out, probably won't be coming back, no matter what they do to fix it, if anything. For me, the magic is gone. This was something I looked forward to every year. I scheduled vacation time months in advance to be sure I'd be available to attend. I enjoyed meeting people that I remembered from previous years, even if we don't talk at all during the year. It's as much a social event as it is an opportunity to get lots of reading material at a cheap price. All that is ruined now.

I'm sure the sale will survive without us. They still have some people who will work it anyways, others will fork up the money and just get their books that way. But it's not the same anymore. There won't be the same caliber of people walking around helping the customers. The people that REALLY love it, loved helping others enjoy it, those people won't be around this year, or next year, or the year after that. And attendance will start to wane. A lot of the steadfast volunteers also either donated a lot of books to the sale, or were involved in arranging donations from other sources. A lot of that can be expected to dry up. In time, it will be but a shadow of what it once was. And that hurts a community to lose a resource like that.

So I decided today, I didn't want to spend $30 in gas just to go help out someone who refused to show any respect in return. I'd probably just end up speaking my mind at an inappropriate time. No need for that. This will do nicely. Anyways, I now get 2 more days each year I need to find something to do with. I doubt I'll have any trouble with that.

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