It’s a hoarder’s dream and a librarian’s nightmare.
Thousands upon thousands of books in boxes that either need to be sorted or packaged for the Lifeline Bookfair, which is making a comeback in December after almost 10 months in storage due to the pandemic.
About 80 pallets – each containing 56 boxes of books – are wrapped and ready for the southside Bookfair at Tuggeranong Southern Cross Stadium which will take place between 10 and 13 December.
Those familiar with the Bookfair know how grand the rows of tables filled with books from every genre and background can be, but it pales in comparison to the fervent Mitchell warehouse.
One stalwart has been volunteering for 40 years, beginning when the warehouse was just a shed.
Chesley Engram, who has racked up 20 years volunteering for the Bookfair, has seen the show develop over the years to become the operation it is today.
“It has changed quite a lot,” he said. “When I first started we were further up Heffernan Street and about a third of the size.
“I got hooked into it when I was still in the public service. I would come in most Saturday afternoons and when I retired 10 years ago I came in a bit more often – I came in two or three days a week to do primary sorting.”
But bibliophiles beware, after years of setting aside his favourites, Chesley says you can have too many books.
“Initially yeah, it was paradise but not much anymore, I have too many books at home – I have a big shelf at home that doesn’t get any smaller,” he said.
But even if every volunteer took home a pallet of books, there would still be enough to set up the southside Bookfair in December.
Well over 100 staff volunteer at the warehouse day in, day out across the week and 80 pallets for December and 120 pallets for a larger northside fair early next year have already been put aside.
With the permanent Fyshwick Book Lovers Lane, pallets are still being cleared, but not as fast as donations are getting dropped off. At one stage, there were around 200 boxes in storage and quarantine.
Yes, you read that right, a week-long book quarantine is the latest eccentricity of the COVID-era.
And so the pages in the warehouse keep turning.
Except in the back right corner where Robyn Singleton and Lyn Mernagh work their magic on games and puzzles.
Every puzzle and game that comes through gets checked for parts and pieces, and for volunteers, that can be the fun part after a day of sorting.
For Robyn, who has been volunteering for around half a decade, the real puzzle is collating all the spare pieces to mix and match duplicates so that sans-one piece Mousetrap can still be sold.
“We check the good puzzles and anyone in the warehouse can check the puzzles for us,” she said.
“When I retired I looked around and wanted to do a job that would help Lifeline because it is a wonderful organisation.
“I also like to reduce, reuse and recycle and this is the ultimate recycling place – the people who do to the fair are often the ones donating too.”
For Lyn, the Lifeline warehouse was just an extension of what she was doing already.
“I do read books but they are mostly recycled – I have a group of friends that I pass them on to depending on what the books are, so I do not tend to accumulate them,” she said.
Canberra’s eclectic residents, from lawyers to history buffs and rare book experts to teachers and lecturers have spent an unthinkable amount of hours sorting, compiling and pricing books for a staple on Canberra’s calendar – and contributing to make the Bookfair a highlight of every bibliophile’s year.
Entry to the Lifeline Bookfair is by gold coin donation and all proceeds go directly to Lifeline Canberra’s 13 11 14 crisis support and suicide prevention service.
For more information, visit Lifeline.