My book fair is coming in a few weeks. I may be in the minority, but it is not my favorite week of the year. Not even close. This is not a reflection at all on the vendor I use for the book fair nor my local representative of that vendor. Both are wonderful and helpful.
I dislike the book fair because I dislike why I have to do it. What other profession has to raise money for the very supplies they require? Surgeons don’t have to raise money for scalpels. Accountants don’t have to raise money for computer software. Yet, schools and school libraries are forced to beg for what we need. I dislike the book fair because I work at a high-poverty elementary school. When you work at such a school, it can be heartbreaking to have a book fair with literally thousands of dollars in inventory and so many kids can’t afford to buy ANYTHING. Yes, I know we can request bargain books and I do. But the parents have to be able to afford the bargain books and value books in general, and often, they cannot. I dislike seeing my students cry over books they can’t purchase–the very thing I strive to put in their hands for free, year round.
I dislike the book fair because it is exhausting. I consider myself to be a very hard worker and I truly love my job. I love talking about books and getting kids excited about them. That kind of exhaustion is okay–at least I hope I am making a difference at the end of each day. The book fair does not make much of a difference in my kids’ lives in the long term. It is tiring to handle the money, inventory, parental concerns, wish lists, and so forth…and still keep my fixed schedule of 30 classes a week.
I still have two book fairs each school year. The reason is why you all do them, too. I simply have to in order to have the quality, library-bound books that my students need at our library. My library budget is not the lowest in my county nor the largest. It is a decent budget and I am grateful for it. However, the budget alone is barely enough to keep up with lost and damaged books, let alone purchase new and exciting titles. My students in high poverty often have chaotic lives. Books get lost in a move or damaged frequently due to transiency. Last year, I weeded thousands of books in my collection. Weeding has many benefits and one of them is that it shows what your collection is lacking. To purchase books that my collection needs requires money. So a book fair becomes an unfortunate necessity.
Because book fairs are not going away, I have made changes that help me keep my sanity and raise some money. I no longer have any browsing days. I have the book fair for one week Monday through Friday. I stick to my fixed schedule. If kids forget money on their library day, they are always welcome to shop at any time that week with their teacher’s permission. We have a two-hour evening family event and although I wish I could have food trucks, a storyteller, and other fun things on that night, it is not feasible with my school community. I keep it low key but fun, too.
It is sometimes difficult to hear my colleagues at other schools across the country say how much money they raise. They are very lucky, indeed. Does my school library suffer as a result? I hope not and I try very hard to make sure it doesn’t. As one of my favorite books says, “I never want to look at my students and see dollar signs.” Still, more money means author visits, new makerspace equipment, and more books, for sure.
When I have my book fair in a few weeks, I will look forward to the child whose face lights up when they purchase a much-wanted book or when they can buy a pencil or a poster. Although they don’t know it, I depend on these positive interactions to get me through the week. Every little penny adds up and I hope to make enough to add to our ever-growing graphic novel collection.
Author: Elizabeth Kyser
H!! I am the lucky librarian at Ettrick Elementary School, located in Chesterfield County, Virginia. I graduated with a degree in History from Allegheny College, received a Master of Education degree from Loyola University in Maryland, and my library certification classes were taken at Longwood University. I was a classroom teacher for fourteen years before I became a school librarian and I am so glad I was. Please feel free to find me on social media. I am energized by sharing ideas with colleagues from around the world!