I became friends with the owner of our local bookstore while I worked on a YA Lit class project. She allowed me to meet with some teens in her store, and asked me to host a discussion circle over summer break. Through that experience, I saw how much Jamie wanted to reach more students and we started to discuss how a local fair would work. It's taken a year of discussing and planning, but we finally made it happen this Fall! My hope with writing this narrative is that others will see how it can be done, and the rewarding benefits of going the local route.
The top 3 positives have been:
*Personally selecting the books & other fun items
*Supporting a local business
*Building community advocacy
Biggest challenges to overcome:
*How to replace the register system
*Amount of time invested (selecting books, shuttling deliveries, set-up)
*Getting teachers/parents/students to see that Different & New can be good! (PR!)
Things we decided we'd need to change:
*Handling low stock/re-orders
*More shopping days
Starting on a positive note
One of the biggest draws for me in going this route was being able to choose books that I know our students enjoy, and will encourage them to read more. Isn't that the ultimate goal?? Over the past 2 years, I've spent a lot of time surveying how students use the library, reviewing circulation data, and observing student interests. With that information, I genrefied the fiction section in our library. Students are much more resourceful and self-directed now in finding materials, but I'm still engaged enough with them to know what is most popular. With all that in mind, I was able to choose from many publishers and distributors to get series, authors, and special interest books that will appeal to our students. Kate DiCamillo is so popular from my early readers (Bink & Gollie and Mercy Watson) up through 5th graders (Flora & Ulysses) so we had a display specifically for her work. Humor is my most circulated genre, so we filled shelves not only with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries, but also options that would be great companions like Timmy Failure and James Patterson's Middle School series. Fantasy is another strong interest, so instead of Harry Potter & Rick Riordan, we went with similar series that they may not have been exposed to yet (Fablehaven, Tail of Emily Windsnap). By planning ahead, we also were able to get many specials from publishers that would allow students to buy 2 books, and get a 3rd for free. There were DK Early Readers, Who Was biographies, Magic Animals, and Vet Volunteers, that were such great deals. I was extremely pleased with how many biographies our students bought!! I've purchased many before for our library, so it was something they were familiar with, but seeing how interested they were in them was awesome. As for the accessories (and total lack of Scholastic "junk"), we were mindful to recognize that not every student would have enough for a book, or be motivated to buy a book, so we also had some fun Melissa & Doug activity books, origami paper, bookmarks, erasers, and personalized pencils. Surprisingly, we didn't sell all the pencils/erasers/bookmarks that I thought we would, which tells me they were more focused on books over 'stuff.'
*Supporting a local business
Over and over I heard comments about appreciating the fact that money was going back into our community. One of the biggest advocates of going local was my principal, and I believe that her enthusiasm definitely contributed to our teachers and other community members seeing the benefit of the finances staying local. The town of Manteo, where my school is located, has a deep history and the people here are very invested in sustaining our community. The current bookstore, Downtown Books, opened after a storm closed down the previous, long-standing establishment - while it's customer base has grown since then, there has still been a hurdle to get people to recognize what Downtown Books has to offer. This book fair was a perfect opportunity to show not only how the store can cater to children, but we also had a section dedicated for Middle Grades, YA, and adults. My hope is to see a lot more students and their parents frequenting our local store (especially because that means they're buying books!!!)
*Building community advocacy
Not only did I hope this change would support a business in our community, another goal was to further build our school community and make more connections to parents. We decided to promote teacher wishlists this year by doing a raffle for 2 books - if students purchased a book for their teacher's classroom, they got to enter the contest. The store donated a signed copy of A Snicker of Magic, and a beautiful edition of The Night Before Christmas. This not only drove parents to think of books as holiday/thank you gifts, but brought teachers down to see what we were offering for our students. It's always fun to get teachers in the media center and build those relationships! An added bonus to this was seeing how students were motivated to spend their allotted book fair money on purchasing a book for their teacher - it was so heartwarming! One girl even purchased one for her teacher from last year, because she treasures her so much! Another group of girls pooled their change together to buy a book for a their teacher. Yet another, said she "gave the dollars, and (her friend) gave the cents" for their teacher's gift!! More generosity was shown by friends buying books for their peers, or sharing some change to cover that pesky tax. Those moments are what I'll remember most - perhaps that could have been something that would have happened regardless of who the fair was hosted by, but I think the positive atmosphere is what contributed to these thoughtful gestures. I was also blessed with many compliments and positive feedback from parents and guardians - not only about the local flavor, but also about the influence it makes on our students' interest and appreciation for reading. For that, it's worth all the work!
Hurdles along the way
One of the easiest parts of a Scholastic book fair is the register and inventory system. Everything comes in a preloaded, computer-like register so check out is as easy as scanning the barcodes on items and taking cash or check. Everything has a barcode and a price, and the register does all the hard work for you. In the past two years, I usually passed the cashier duties on to parent volunteers who love this responsibility and with the exception of giving back the wrong change, I never had an accounting issue. Going local was a different story - I really didn't know how to go about balancing the most effective way of running a register, while also guaranteeing that we were correctly tracking our financials. After much contemplation and research, I found that the Square app on our new iPad minis would be a good option so I loaded it up with different categories - some pre-priced, others that would prompt the user to enter a price. Not only did this help keep our accounting in order, it also allowed Jamie and I to have a fairly accurate inventory of which departments were strongest, and which didn't sell as much as expected. It wasn't a perfect system, and I'll be spending more time before our next fair trying to improve the system. I was pleasantly surprised though at how user-friendly the Square program and website is - all for free! We created an account specifically for the book fair, which is how we managed our transactions and reports, but we used the store's account for swiping credit cards. While this added a bit more number-crunching at the end of it all, we felt that going with the account that was already set-up would be most efficient.
*Amount of time invested
If you've done a Scholastic fair, you know that set-up mostly involves pushing large, metal carts to an open space, unpacking a few boxes, and preparing the registers - there isn't much preparation before the delivery happens, and all that's expected for managing inventory is re-ordering anything you run low on during the week. Going local completely changes that up! Time was my biggest investment in this project - time to pick books from several publishers (searching online, through Fall catalogs, and specials lists), time running back and forth between the store and our library with load after load of boxes, time to unshelve hundreds of library books to make room for book fair displays... For weeks leading up to the fair, leaving school involved a pit-stop to the book store to pick up the latest delivery, followed by getting to school 30 minutes before anyone else the next morning so I could unpack several cart-fuls of boxes before students arrived. I have more storage space than the store, which is why we chose this method but it's one of the things we've talked about changing for next year. Once we were ready for a late-afternoon set-up on Friday afternoon before the fair, we needed to clear out space by taking all library books from their places and cart them off into storage. It took several hours, and some exceptional help from Terri (library asst) and Lora (library intern/reading specialist), but we managed to make the library look more like a Fair than I had expected! Late nights were the norm all week as I worked through the new accounting system through Square, but with my awesome buddy and tech facilitator Carol by my side, I was able to still tackle numbers after 9+ hours of book fairing every day :) Clean up on the final day was made easier by having both Jamie and another store employee, Garnette, come by and load their cars up too. Terri and I still managed to work almost a 12 hour day on Friday in order to wrap up the Fair and get the library ready to go for normal library operations on Monday. Through all of it, I repeated over and over, "it's a labor of love!" I really believe if you keep that mentality, and surround yourself with supportive friends, it's worth the extra time and energy.
*Getting teachers/parents/students to see that Different & New can be good!
As usual with introducing something new, enthusiasm is the key for selling it! Once word got out that I was ditching Scholastic, I knew I needed to get lots of information and positive thoughts out to teachers, students, and community members so they were excited about the Fair, and prepared for a change. Since I started planning this at the beginning of the summer, I took many opportunities this Fall to chat with teachers while they were in the workrooms, sent emails with previews, and had Downtown Books post pics and previews on their social media pages. We built up even more anticipation by taking photos of the books that would be on display and creating short promotional videos for the Morning News Show. Our local paper picked up wind of the "shop local" fair, so we had a photo printed and invited the public in to shop, too! Jamie made a bunch of flyers and posters that we hung around the school, and we also had a bookmark competition for our 3-5 students so they brought home information, and brought back a contribution to our competition! The final touch of our PR campaign was the virtual tour that was posted on the school website and on social media. In 24 hours, I had almost 100 views! While much of this extra work to spread the word was time-consuming, it also allowed me to touch base with a lot more teachers and community members I may not have made the effort towards without this opportunity.
The question I keep getting asked: was it a success?
To me, the success comes in knowing how excited our students got about purchasing books; the generosity I saw from students to their peers, teachers, and family members; the way our community came out to support a school fundraiser and a local business, and the advocacy I was able to build with teachers, parents, and other community members. While I cannot guarantee that everyone would have the same success that I had, I strongly urge others to at least consider it in your community. I certainly will not hesitate to do this again at my school. I'm so very grateful for Jamie and Downtown books to take the risk on doing this with me, as well as the amazing help I received from Terri, Carol, Lora, and our parent volunteers! We had a great turn out by our students and parents, largely due to the promoting our teachers did in the weeks leading up to the big day. It's definitely a community-wide effort - and I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to try something new with everyone's support!
I welcome comments/suggestions/critiques so please feel free to contact me, or add something in the comments. If you consider going local, I can share more documents and resources that helped me along the way!