Returning the favour by sharing used books
Although most Concordians only think of the Used Book Fair during the fall, Susan Hawke puts in hours year-round. The longtime staff member and alumna is chief organizer of the annual fair that has raised more than $104,000 to support students over the last 14 years.
An associate librarian in the Career Resource Centre operated by Counselling and Development, Hawke has held the same position for 31 years.
Hawke began volunteering at the fair in the late ‘90s, and in 2001 she took over from Barbara Barclay, founder of the popular fundraiser. The funds raised are split between Multi-Faith Chaplaincy’s Emergency and Food Fund and the Used Book Fair Scholarship. The scholarship was created in 2003, and with the continued success of the Used Book Fair, an endowment was created in 2008 to assure the scholarship in perpetuity.
Over the years, she has made some curious discoveries among the donations. Aside from interesting bookmarks, footnotes and the occasional hollowed-out book likely used by a teenager as a secret hiding place, she found a touching inscription from a woman to her grandson apparently in his last year of high school in 1939. It led Hawke to wonder, “Where is he now? And how did this book make its way here?”
Other treasures included a collection of tiny dictionaries in a cookie tin, and a letter, postmarked from Cambridge in the 1940s, addressed to someone in Montreal from none other than renowned author C.S. Lewis. The valuable correspondence was sold on its own to a collector, which bolstered that year’s donations.
For every gem, there are some questionable donations — titles that are not sellable and end up on a box marked ‘free.’ The sorting process is long and arduous, and takes place in the dusty Hall Building cages in the basement. Hawke and her dedicated team of volunteers spend a couple of hours each month sorting books, a schedule that expands in the rush closer to the date of the fall fair.
Hawke is quick to underline the importance of the volunteers, saying the fair wouldn’t be possible with them, and the invaluable support from Distribution Services, the Bookstore, the International Students’ Office, Security, Conference Services and the Office of the Vice- President Services.
One volunteer had received support from the Emergency and Food Fund during a difficult time, and the best way for him to show his gratitude and return the favour was to give his time to the fair.
It’s this sense of community that drives Hawke. “Concordia educated me,” she says, referring to her CEGEP courses taken at Loyola and her undergraduate degree. “I’m so grateful for the job I’ve enjoyed, my wonderful colleagues... this is my way of giving back.”