Independent School Book Fairs in the Age of Amazon and Marie Kondo

This year our school’s Book Fair theme was “Reading Opens the World.” Our Assistant Director of Development designed a gorgeous logo with a rainbow. The vinyl stickers we created to market the Fair were a huge hit and there has been non-stop requests for kid and teacher-sized t-shirts (which are usually only ordered for the core Book Fair team).

We held two all school assemblies celebrating books that had opened individual doors to the love of reading. The first group to share were faculty and staff. The second assembly featured student volunteers– we finally had to halt the flood of volunteers because so many students felt called to share their favorite books.

We hosted a free wine (delicious and pricey) and cheese party with our local independent bookstore partner to cap off the first day of the Fair. The store stayed open beyond their normal hours to host our families. Out of 200 families, perhaps 20 families showed up.

We held a one-day, pop-up bookstore in the Main Library of our school with copies of forty thoughtfully curated children’s books, picture books, early elementary selections and middle grade fiction. Again it was a small showing of parents and students.

The structure of Fair has evolved since I started working at St. Thomas School, it went from a five day in-school, two day in-store Fair to in-store and on-line (no in-school options that year) to its current iteration, three days online, one day in-store. The changes have been in keeping with our booksellers’ preferences largely driven by economic imperatives. Invested in supporting local bookstores and a range of publishers, we have not partnered with Scholastic.

It is unclear to me that we will make more than $1000.00 when all is said and done. This is separate from the $500 we (the library and parent association team) spent on marketing materials for an event that is popular with less than 1/8 of our families. When I asked my Friends of the Library chair, “Why do you think that some of our families are not interested in coming to our in-school or in-store Fair?” She said, “They don’t want any more clutter in their houses.”

I understand the need for a tidy house filled with items that bring you joy—thank you, Marie Kondo. However as a librarian, I do not consider books clutter. Even though my own house is small, around 1100 square feet (with two adolescent boys, a dog and a husband) there is always room for another book. The majority of books, especially childrens’ books, are filled with wonder and possibility. Reading truly opens the world, splitting it wide enough for readers to explore, observe, and often understand.

The “books as clutter” concept models a world of limited information and circumscribed knowledge. Parents who tell their children that there isn’t room in the house for books are sending the message that reading itself is wasted time. As teachers we know that one of the single most important activities related to academic success is to encourage a young person to read independently. As parents we know that reading together at home, collaboratively and in parallel, promotes long-term connection and empathy.

In our current moment, we must tackle a two-pronged problem: the desire for the immediate, inexpensive, and personalized selections (Amazon) and the desire for a tidy house (Kondo). The School Book Fair as it has existed in past years may continue to evolve, but the importance of having numerous print books in one’s house will remain increasingly critical.

Follett Book Fair: Lower School Edition 2019

Follett Truck Arrival: 10:36am Nov 1

I have now been part of school book fairs for 5 years. In that time, I have participated in Main Street Book Fairs, indie bookstore fairs, Scholastic and now Follett.

This year, I made the switch from Scholastic to Follett. After 2 years of dealing with low quality bindings, single-house pub list and tons of junk, I went with Follett this year. I have been pleased thus far with communications, availability of items and quality of bindings.

Before I contacted Follett, I did reach out to two independent bookstores in my area, but they declined to consider a school book fair. During AISL Atlanta 2018, I attended the Librarians, Bookstores, and Community Connections given by the Staff of the Little Shop of Stories and felt well equipped to approach. During this great presentation, they gave suggestions of how to connect with your local bookstore for events. Alas, could not convince my local booksellers of the benefits for all!

Follett solicited me via email in mid-2018 to consider hosting a bookfair in 2019. I had not heard many reviews and figured it would be worth trying at least once. I was able to secure my first choice of dates, and contract was signed. I was really looking forward to offering my students a wide array of new titles as well as not have to deal with boxes of random items ranging from water bottles to tote bags to preschool plastic calendar pointers that came with Scholastic.

Selection of layout in The Bolles School, Ponte Vedra Beach Lower School Campus Library


  • Fall of 2018 Contract signed and sent
  • Spring of 2019 First communications around book fair logistics
  • August 2019 Reached out to Duval County Public Schools to investigate servant leadership opportunities related to our book fair and proceeds
  • August of 2019 First in a series of monthly phone consults with my Follett Book Fair Rep
  • September 2019 Began receiving access to online portal for webinars, helpful PDFs, and images
  • September 2019 Connected with Parkwood Heights Elementary School: we will aim to provide each of their 304 of elementary school students with a birthday book
  • October 2019 Received box of Follett Book Fair promotional materials
  • November 1, 2019 10:36am truck arrived
  • Delivery driver helped move everything to my second floor library using our service elevator
  • 3 parent volunteers arrived at 11am and we were finished setting up by 12:30pm!
  • Cash register set-up super easy and I love the Drop Ship and Complete your Series options!
Interesting display option: four sided cart (I ordered 3 of these)
Traditional wheel-to-open V-shaped cart (I ordered 5 of these)
Wishlist sheets for students: for use on preview day. Includes information about sales tax, what payment options are available, and purchase date and time.

I have developed a system where students visit twice with their class during book fair week. The first visit is a PREVIEW day and the second visit is the PURCHASE day. On Preview Day, students create a wishlist to discuss with their grownups. That way, they can bring home their ideas and feel good about returning for Purchase Day. I remind everyone that purchasing is not ever required, it is just a special bookstore experience within the library.

This year, we aim to provide every student at Parkwood Heights ES with a Birthday Book. I reached out to the Elementary Region Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools to find out about ways we could be servant leaders in our community.

Servant Leadership is part of our learning experience here at Bolles. There are many ways we accomplish this and the Book Fair is one. The proceeds of our book fair are used to support reading and public school libraries in our area. Last year, we boosted 2 elementary school library collections, and in 2017 we assisted a school in Marathon Key, FL which was partially lost to Hurricane Irma. The Library Media Ambassadors assist in communicating this effort to our student body, as well as go on a field trip to meet and read with students at the schools support. Goal being to support literacy everywhere!

I will leave some comments next week about the overall experience! Feel free to leave questions in the comments section below!

Three Cheers for Lower School Book Fairs!

November 15 Debrief:

Our November Follett Book Fair – despite all the negative experiences I have heard about – was really well executed. The EXCELLENT book selection, high quality of materials, strong communication with my rep, and fast delivery of items ordered that were sold out. Fair drop off was at 10:30am the Friday before and pick up was around 9:30am the Monday after. Set up was 45 minutes with 2 volunteers on hand. Take down was the same. The portal for learning (how-to videos, PDFs for advertising, author videos) was accessible, though I gave many development suggestions. My volunteers commented how much “easier” the register system was to use and how nice it was not to have to sort and store JUNK. The pens, erasers, bookmarks and journals that did come with the fair were good quality and really well curated. I have booked my fair for next year!