Book fairs have become a regular part of the job of many school librarians, and when I find myself in a room with other school librarians, the conversation often turns to book fairs. So when the Forum editors expressed interest in article about fairs, I knew I had to put the question to the listserv and turn to our collective wisdom. I received many replies, and here is what our colleagues had to say about running a successful fair.
The one overriding theme in all the responses was effort put in vs. advantages gained from the fair. Everyone agreed that fairs are a lot of work, but those that loved their fairs thought they gained something from it that was worth the effort. I also heard from a few people who had had fairs in the past, but decided not to continue them because they did not feel that it was worth the effort.
So what do you gain from a book fair? The two most common responses to this question were money and excited kids. People also mentioned literacy reasons: the chance to encourage recreational reading, helping families build good home libraries, and learning about the reading habits of students. One respondent mentioned good exposure and PR for the library.
And what about all that work? Well, it’s definitely the downside to book fairs, as noted by several respondents. Some said that the money they netted was not worth the work. Others noted that recruiting, training, and managing reliable volunteers to help is difficult. Many people mentioned that when younger children who have not yet developed money sense come to the fair it can be challenging. Other downsides to fairs included competing with other school activities and that some students simply can’t afford the books. At least one respondent noted that sometimes classroom teachers push back a bit, saying they don’t want to miss instructional time by visiting the fair. Others noted the disruption to time and classes in the library and loss of librarian instructional time as well. Sometimes the book selection provided was disappointing, and of course sometimes the fair company sends those “dreaded tchotchkes.”
Other logistics you’ll need to consider if you’re a fair first-timer: will classes have a schedule to visit? Will they have a preview time? How will you advertise the fair? Who will help you? Does your school have a procedure for getting change / handling money? If the library has a fixed-schedule, what will your students be doing during their library class time while the fair is in session?
Of course one big decision to make about your fair is which book fair company to partner with. One respondent said that “I found they are all about the same.” But another noted, “I recommend finding a company you really like and making it work, and most likely your community will go along with you and appreciate your efforts.” Respondents noted that they worked with the following companies: Best Book Fairs in Woburn; Book Fairs by Book Ends in Winchester; Scholastic; Barnes & Noble; and local bookstores. (I have also heard that The Book Oasis in Stoneham is starting to do fairs, but I did not hear from anyone who has used them yet.) Most of these companies had at least one respondent who loved them, and at least one other respondent who had tried them and decided not to continue with them. So… shop around and find the company that works best for you and your situation!
Many librarians said they liked to be in charge of the fair so that the profit could be kept in the library. Some needed this to enhance their materials budgets, while others used this money for “special” things such as technology or author visits. In some schools the parent organization runs the fair, but then the library may or may not benefit monetarily. So being in charge of the fair brings with it the huge benefit of being in control of the profit!
Most respondents offered some general suggestions to help your fair run smoothly. Many emphasized the need to get some help! Try to get at least some volunteers to help cover your lunch or when the youngest students visit. Staying open during evening and parent events can really help boost your bottom line (although a few people did mention that spending evenings at school can be a downside to fairs). BOGO (Buy One Get One) fairs that some companies offer were mentioned as a way to maximize the number of books students can afford. One respondent just urged her colleagues to jump in: “try it and see.”
Book fairs serve many purposes and can have many frustrations, but with shopping around for partners and planning ahead, they can also have many benefits. Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below: What do you think about book fairs? Positives? Negatives? Have a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like some help with? Chime in!
[A HUGE thank-you to everyone who answered my request for help over the listserv. I realized I didn’t ask permission to use your names, so I didn’t identify any of you. But I appreciate your comments, and feel free to jump into the conversation below!]
Jennifer Varney is the Librarian at Hurley K-8 School, Boston Public Schools