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The Notre Dame Press Book Festival:
Reaching Out to Campus and the Broader Community

Marketing and Publicity Manager Laura Moran Walton reflects on the importance of Notre Dame Press’s annual Book Festival and “Dirty Book Sale” in building community and cultivating readers.

At the beginning of November, Publisher’s Weekly ran an article titled “Where Did the Readers Go?” It contained some disheartening data—at least for those of us who love books. A recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts, based on a survey of more than 40,000 people, found that only 48.5% of adults read one or more books for pleasure in the past year.

You read that correctly: Less than half of all American adults read a book last year.

What’s up with that?

Recently, a lot of media attention has been devoted to the post-pandemic enthusiasm for experiences. People are traveling again, attending concerts and sporting events, spending time in public spaces—basking in the sense of community that we missed during COVID’s lockdowns. In contrast, reading has always been a primarily solitary experience. Are people turning away from books because they want to turn outward instead? And if that’s the case, how do we, as university press publishers, create a sense of community around the experience of reading?

At the University of Notre Dame Press, we host our annual Book Festival and “Dirty Book” Sale.

For two days—this year, it happened on Nov. 14 and 15—our staff sets up shop in the Hesburgh Library Concourse, one of Notre Dame’s busiest spaces. We bring in hundreds and hundreds of books, setting up tables and displays. We host educational sessions featuring our authors and our staff experts, sharing information about our books and the world of publishing. All of our books are on sale, including “dirty” (slightly damaged) books, overstock, and special autographed copies. There’s even a prize wheel. And our staff members are there, armed with seasonal catalogs and credit card processers, ready to talk about books, publishing, and life in general with the students, faculty, and community members who arrive throughout the day. 

It’s interactive, it’s festive—essentially, it’s a two-day-long party that’s all about books. And because of its location in the heart of campus, it’s impossible to miss. The Notre Dame Press Book Festival and “Dirty Book” Sale brings a joyful sense of community back to books and reading—and based on all the smiling people who walked away carrying bags full of Notre Dame Press titles, we expect to see an upward trajectory in the data the next time that the NEA asks Americans about books.

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