I have been running bookfairs, with books provided by local independent bookstores, for over twenty years. After listening to an episode of Amy Hermon’s School Librarians United podcast about inclusive libraries, I started thinking more about the equity issues of traditional bookfairs. Wanting to try something different, I explored other options, and of course posted a query on the AISL listserv. Others had been looking into alternatives as well, and after assessing various forms of book swaps and the like, I settled on Claire Hazzard’s Book Bonanza as the most equitable since it didn’t require students to bring in books for a one-to-one swap.
I started out with a request sent through our Communications Department and our Parents’ Association for donations of books in good shape that would appeal to students in grades 5, 6, 7, or 8. My plan was to divide the number of donated books by the number of students in the middle school, to determine how many books each student could choose. This being my first Bonanza, I could only guess at time frames and volunteers needed, so I used my Bookfair timeline. I reserved a large room for two and a half days (the half for set up and the two days for the Bonanza), and spread the word through my usual channels.
And pretty much nothing happened.
While several parents expressed interest in volunteering, by about two weeks before the event, I’d received fewer than fifteen donated books. So I consulted colleagues the Parents’ Association about what I was doing wrong. We finally decided that I hadn’t allowed enough time for donations (with a bookfair, that isn’t an issue), and the wording about donations was too specific. So I postponed the event from mid-October to mid-January, simplified the donation request, and brainstormed other ways to increase donations. Deciding I needed to increase awareness about the Bonanza, I took the following steps.
- Increased communication to the wider Overlake community, including parents, Upper School students, and faculty/staff.
- Turned the donation request into a competition between our two in-house teams, Green and Gold, with one point per book, and a goal of 500 books. (We have Green/Gold competitions in library activities, ASB-designed activities, Field Day, and more throughout the year, with one team coming out on top at the end.)
- Created a “thermometer” to show the progress of each side, and set it up in the library foyer along with boxes enthusiastically decorated by the 5th grade. I toted the thermometer to weekly MS announcements to display the totals and keep up interest.
- Wrote a skit to film and screen at Middle School announcements. I recruited student actors, and the Communications Department did the filming and editing, with my input.
- Created a series of six promotional flyers, changing them out every couple of weeks. I looked for phobias I could possibly connect to the event/books/etc., and used those as a basis for suggesting donations. Here is the first one:
Other phobias I used were ataxophobia (fear of untidiness), abibliophobia (fear of having nothing to read), cleithrophobia (fear of being trapped), scholeciphobia (fear of [book]worms), prasinophobia (fear of the color green), and aurophobia (fear of gold).
I stored donations in the library. With help from colleagues, I sorted them into genres and removed any that were too high-school/adult, or were in poor shape/too out of date. Despite all the promotions, books were slow to come in, and large collections from a few people (76 books, 82 books, 124 books, etc.) accounted for the majority of titles. Many other donations included novels read in class, so I had multiple copies of those. But after several weeks of announcements and a few more large donations, we hit our goal and beyond, with over 600 books!
For day one, we boxed the books up by genre and hauled them over to the large room I’d reserved in our Campus Center. With fewer books than a bookfair, I’d thought that two of us could manage this on our own, and with wheeled carts, we did. It was a slog, though! As a late-in-the-game scheduling conflict necessitated moving the books to a small library classroom for day two, we recruited our wonderful Maintenance personnel to help out.
On day one, I set out a third of the books, sorted into genres and labeled, and held back the rest so that the first few classes wouldn’t snag all of the best ones. Working with the teachers, I had scheduled all of the English classes to visit for part of a block. (I think I should have sent more reminders to faculty, though—I did have to go to some classrooms to remind them about the event). The kids had a mixed reaction to the books; many didn’t find anything they wanted at all, but in some classes, everyone found more than enough—and the difference in enthusiasm between the 5th grade and the 8th grade will surprise no one! For students wanting only one or no books, I allowed them to “give” their choice(s) to a friend, and that worked well.
By the end of the Bonanza, I had a large number of books left over; several scheduled classes never made it in, due to teacher absences, a fire drill, etc., and many students choose no books. I planned to offer the remaining titles to anyone who wanted them after the last class. Also, I planned to set out any leftover books in the library for a week, to cut down on the number of boxes I needed to take to Goodwill. To my surprise, however, at 2:40—the end of the last class—I was swarmed by kids who wanted books. By 2:45 they had taken ALL of the books! I had not realized that kids would want to take home whole boxfuls of books, and if I do this again, I will limit them to five until everyone who wanted more books had gotten some.
In the end, the Bonanza was a success, but I don’t plan to do it again soon. It was a lot more work than a traditional bookfair, and obviously I had no control over the mix of titles; the fantasy section was about 70% Warriors and Wings of Fire! I would still like to explore more equitable ways to run a bookfair, though, and I’m glad I gave this a try. I greatly appreciate the many colleagues who helped along the way, all of the students and parents who donated books, and all the AISL members who described their creative bookfair/book swap programs to me.