A Crowded Day of Book Lovers

Ramblings of a Portland Book Festival Volunteer

First, a disclaimer. I did not attend the Portland Book Festival. Instead, I volunteered there. Considering that volunteers get free access to the festival, you would think that those two statements would be synonymous, and for most volunteers, they probably are. However, I was a volunteer manager, which meant that I worked all day (with the exception of a few breaks I took in my downtime) and did not go to any of the events. Still, I managed to see most of the booths and was exposed to many of the people coming and going through my volunteer hours.

The Portland Book Festival is, in a word, crowded. I was first introduced to just how crowded it could be through the first event I was managing in my volunteer position.  I was an author signing manager, which meant that I was in charge of managing other volunteers and the line for getting authors’ autographs, and man, was that a challenge for the first event I did. The first event at the stage I was working was Scholastic GraphixCon: Middle Grade Graphic Novels. This event had a panel of six authors, including the moderator, all of whom were doing autographs right after their panel. One, Raina Telgemeier, even had her own line and a special ticketing system for autographs. The crowds for those signings were insane. Hundreds of people showed up with their kids to get their books autographed, and it was my job to organize the lines into a somewhat respectable order. That was a bit stressful, but it was also very sweet because all the kids were so excited to meet their favorite authors. The authors were also some of the nicest people you could meet. They would engage with their fans, often answering questions and having discussions with them, and were willing to go the extra mile to make sure the kids felt appreciated. I remember that we had so many people just there for the signings that when the event was technically over there were still a line going out the door and through the hall, so we asked the authors if they were willing to stay until the line ended, and they were all willing to stay as long as they were needed to finish autographing.

Other than that situation, the volunteering was fairly calm. Since I was not at the events, I missed most of the crowds. For my work, I would set up the seats for the authors and discuss how to best separate the line for autographs based on how many authors there were. When the autograph signing started, I would help maintain the line with the other volunteers so that it wouldn’t get out of hand. However, a couple of times there was enough of a break in between events for me to view the festival. This was when I realized just how many people were interested in the festival. The first time I took a break, it was to get lunch. As part of my volunteer package, I was given a voucher for a free slice of pizza and soda from one of the food trucks parked at the block, but when I tried to get lunch, I realized that the truck had run out of food! Luckily, there were several other trucks around, but it showed me how many people were moving through this small area. The second time I had a break, I decided to look at the booths that were stationed in the first floor of the Marks Building and outside of the Portland Art Museum. All of the booths were very cool. Some had handmade notebooks. Some had original artwork. And of course, some of them sold books. Overall, I had a really good time at the Portland Book Festival, even if I didn’t really go, but I got the impression that other people did too, if the size of the number of people that came and stayed was any indication. So, not only was that a fun day for me, I was able to volunteer for something I really cared about, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping writers and booklovers. I would definitely volunteer there again. 

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