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Anastasia Magriplis from the Lifeline Bookfest, Brisbane.

For what you’d pay for a new paperback, you could fill a sports bag with second-hand books at the Lifeline Bookfest, in Brisbane. There are literally millions of books at Bookfests: many of which you’d never even hear about otherwise, some more than a century old. They should have these things all round the world. I could just imagine the sorts of books that might turn up at a New York or London Bookfest. The Bookfest is on from June 6-8 from 8am to 8pm, and books go supercheap on June 9 from 8am-3pm, at the Brisbane Convention Centre, South Brisbane, Australia. I interviewed the organiser of volunteers at the Lifeline Bookfest, Anastasia Magriplis.Also, earlier this year, I went along to see author Alexander McCall Smith give a talk at the Brisbane City Hall about his novel Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.

I remember the last day of one Bookfest. It had been going for a week at its usual venue, the Brisbane Convention Centre, in a room roughly the dimensions of a 747 hangar. There was about an hour to go and I made my way to the Rare and Collectibles section. Then there was an announcement that the books were going for half-price, as was customary in the last hour of the last day of Bookfests.

I came across four volumes of how to draw books, published by the International Library of Technology in 1926 in Scranton PA. They were beautiful hardbacks, heavy, about C5 size. Green with gold lettering on marone spines. Inside the artwork was wonderful: pictures of colorful old advertising, for example. One book was called Black-and-White Technique, and it was full of those ink line drawings that used to illustrate books and periodicals like Punch back in the 1800s.

Someone must have treasured those books; maybe an art student back in the 1920s or 30s. Literally millions of people had walked past these excellent books for I don’t know how many days and the books had been left behind. I picked them up for about three dollars each.

Other Bookfest discoveries include everything from Secrets of a Solicitor, the memoirs of a 19th century London solicitor, to Humour by Stephen Leacock, to an 1890 hardback copy of Paradise Lost by Milton, illustrated by Gustav Dore.
I’ve also found a 1920s copy of My Life and Work by Henry Ford. Plus many interesting paperbacks, like a copy of Richard Brautigan’s poetry, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster. The best thing about Bookfests is you never know what books you’re going to find.
The books are donated by the public to Lifeline which is a charity that offers services like phone counselling. There are more than a million of these books. Then Bookfest volunteers lay them out neatly in long rows along long wooden tables at the Convention Centre, Halls 3 and 4.

Signs at these tables indicate the genres of books on display. All you have to do is choose which section of the Bookfest you’ll go to first: the Rare and Collectibles; Priced; and Unpriced sections. Then you file along one side of the tables, scanning the upward spines of the books. A bag is crucial. Otherwise you end up stacking books under your chin. Then you head for the volunteers at the cash registers.

The volunteers are a friendly bunch, and it must be interesting seeing what discoveries people have made as they bring them to the cash registers.
These Bookfests should be a worldwide event, run by charities like Lifeline in various cities. I can imagine the sorts of gems that might get donated in places like London and New York. I spoke to the organiser of the volunteers of the Brisbane Lifeline Bookfest.

READERSVOICE.COM: When and how did you get started organising the volunteers for the Lifeline Bookfest?

ANASTASIA MAGRIPLIS: I have been organising the Lifeline Bookfest volunteers since June 1999. I volunteered for the event from 1997.
After the January 1999 event it was recognised that the event needed a dedicated volunteer coordinator to mobilise the volunteers and recruit more helpers.

RV: How long does it take to train and organise volunteers and what are the steps?

AM: Training for volunteer roles is on the job. All the volunteer tasks are straight forward and usually a 15 minute instruction lesson before the doors are open is all that is required. If people would like a little more time or are not confident in the task they are allocated, we spend as much time with them as they need.

No volunteer is ever placed in a role where they do not feel happy and confident. In terms of organising volunteers at each shift, there is a cross over time of half an hour where the new volunteers are orientated and trained by the volunteers they are relieving. The system is effective in not only allowing valuable information about the task being imparted but also helps to build a real sense of camaraderie among the volunteers.

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-copyright Simon Sandall.