Elting Library Fair returns October 2-3 following COVID hiatus

Fairgoers at the Elting Memorial Library Fair in 2019. (Photos by Lauren Thomas)

The last time we checked in with the Elting Memorial Library, back in April, the venerable New Paltz institution was bidding farewell to a director with a 47-year tenure, John Giralico, and welcoming a new one: Gillian Murphy, former director of the Julia L. Butterfield Library in Cold Spring. Like so many other cultural institutions that rely on public contact, the Elting had weathered a rough year, loaning out books via a pickup window and pivoting to virtual programs in order to continue providing services to its clientele during the pandemic.

Fortunately, the library managed to stay afloat financially, buoyed by a generous community response to its funding appeals and retaining its staff with the help of a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan. “We added a lot of digital services,” says Board president Bob Miller. “We were able to not lay people off. They kept busy.”

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But its biggest annual fundraising event had to be canceled in 2020: the Library Fair, which had been on the go uninterrupted since 1956. Featuring live music, kids’ activities, food booths, plants, toys, jewelry and flea market tables, in addition to a massive book sale with thousands of volumes to choose from and a fabulous raffle with new prizewinners being announced hourly, the Fair has long been a popular excuse for the community to mingle on the Library grounds and have fun.

Back in the spring, when HV1 interviewed the incoming director, the Elting’s Board of Directors hadn’t even decided yet whether or not it could host a Library Fair in 2021. With good news and bad news about the coronavirus and its variants changing from week to week, it was a choice with serious potential public health ramifications. But as more and more Ulster County residents took advantage of the availability of vaccines, the Board finally scheduled the event for the first weekend in October, figuring that it’s easier to keep people safe in an outdoor setting. Masks will be required under the tents and for participation in children’s activities, but attendees won’t have to show proof of vaccination. And the Fair will be slightly scaled back, with the flea market component canceled to leave room for wider aisles and less crowding in the book tents. The usual bouncy house for kids will also be on hiatus, since it’s virtually impossible to prevent contagion in such an environment of heavy physical contact.

The response from the community, having missed this beloved event in 2020, has been enthusiastic, according to the organizers. “What we really feel positive about is being able to bring this back in a modified way,” Miller says. “People who are coming in the Library and hearing that we’re doing it are so excited,” says Murphy, who plans to spend her first Fair as the new director holding court in a booth where patrons can come up and introduce themselves, and also learn more about the new programs that the Library is initiating under her leadership. “I’ll have to get a big sign that says, ‘I’m the new John.’”

It was well past the point in May when the massive task of accepting and sorting book donations for the Fair typically begins that the decision was made to hold one this year, so staff and volunteers have been working overtime. Board vice president June Wheeler has been wrangling volunteer recruitment for the past four years, and is spending more time than usual handling the donations. “To me, this is the heart of the Fair: the book shed,” she says. “I was unemployed during COVID, so I ended up taking more things on. I absolutely love that I can pour myself into something so important to the community…We’ve had some great books coming in, the last few days.”

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Library Fair, all agree. Especially appreciated are the strong backs and high energy of the students from the athletic programs at SUNY New Paltz who pitch in every year, doing setup and teardown, schlepping heavy cartons of books around and running activities for kids. More volunteers for the weekend itself were still needed as of presstime; you can sign up to help out at www.eltinglibrary.org/library-fair.

This year’s Library Fair is dedicated to the memory of two longtime Board presidents who played crucial roles in the institution’s growth: Carol Roper and Sally Rhoads, both of whom died in 2020. It will follow the usual schedule of a full day of activities on Saturday, October 2 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the book sale alone continuing on Sunday, October 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free, but early birds who can’t bear to wait to get their hands on that special collectible volume can pay $10 for the privilege of entry at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

More than 100 prizes, including an overnight stay at Mohonk Mountain House, will be given away in this year’s raffle. Food choices will include former Board member Richard Heyl de Ortiz’s famous sausage-and-pepper plates, as well as burgers, hot dogs and ice cream donated by Stewart’s. Wallkill View Farm will be donating pumpkins for kids to paint. And then there’s the live music lineup for Saturday: Vickie Russell will perform at 8 a.m., James Bacon at 9, Kurt Henry at 10, Wind and Stone at 11, Flamingo Jeff Pfeffer at noon, the Edukated Fleas at 1 p.m., New Paltz School of Rock at 2 and the Resisterhood Choir at 3.

Really, how can you pass this up? There’s some book in that shed that you always wanted (and maybe never even knew it), calling your name. Go answer its siren song on Saturday or Sunday, October 2 and 3 at the Elting Memorial Library, located at 93 Main Street (Route 299) in New Paltz

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