Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
A Beginner’s Guide to Building a School Bookstore
Behold my daughter’s school’s free bookstore. Or as I call it, the Classroom of Awesome. It’s like my family’s Wall of Awesome, only awesomer. I built it over the past 10 months. Two-thousand books, a few hundred hours and some wrestling with argumentative bookshelves.
125 Goosebumps. 55 Harry Potters. 30 Clifford the Big Red Dog.
How long does it take to organize 2,000 books on shelves? Hey, 8 hours with 3 people. How much space do 2,000 books take up in your home before you transport them to a school? Don’t make me relive the nightmare.
You wouldn’t believe the number of people who need the bookstore idea explained to them. Give. Books. To. Kids. For. Free. What don’t you understand?
- Bring a whole class for a visit. Every student gets a book. We’re an impoverished community. Some kids have no books at home.
- Incentives to students struggling with reading.
- Incentives to academic achievers.
- Rewards from playground monitors who witness outstanding behavior.
- Replace pizza, ice cream and popcorn parties (which are exceedingly common at schools these days) with bookstore visits.
My least favorite response is being told our school has a library. Yes, and there’s a difference between borrowing books and owning books. There’s pride and value in ownership. I didn’t understand that just last summer when my kind readers took me to task for raging against kids who write their names in books.
Then, this past spring, I was honored to witness a field trip in which a small number of students chose used books from a real bookstore using donated credit. I thought, we can do this ourselves on campus, and we can do it for every student. Let’s make magic.
[An aside... I love libraries. Our first use of the bookstore will be to replace the traditional party held by our librarian for the classroom that has the best "return rate" on library books this semester. Now those students will choose a book to own instead of sugar to consume.]
The white shelves above came from Gottshalks when the local department store closed. They moved to a Mexican grocery store, then a nonprofit service organization and finally were donated to our school when my wife spotted them by chance while donating items to the nonprofit’s own rummage sale.
Anyhow… I’d be happier if our school abandoned incentive-based learning, but as long as we’re saddled with this backward notion, I aim to make books the most valued reward. Treat books like the treat they are.
Money willing, anyone can build this sort of bookstore, but it requires two qualities most parents lack – interest and time. You must enjoy “the thrill of the hunt” for children’s books and must spend a few hours every week hunting.
What follows is a bookophile’s guide to creating a bookstore.
1. Attend garage sales for 2 to 5 hours every Saturday and visit thrift stores every week. Buy only books in very good to new condition. No major wear, stains or stink. Yeah, give ‘em a whiff for mold. Buy books to be proud of.
Focus your garage sale visits on those that advertise in the newspaper or Craigslist as having children’s items. When an ad mentions baked goods, you know the sale has kids’ stuff even if it’s not mentioned. School and church sales can be a gold mine.
When books are being sold for more than your spending allowance, ask when the sale will be over, and then return at the end to haggle. If the sale was advertised on Craigslist, e-mail the seller with an offer to buy leftover books at your target price. It sometimes works.
This is where ‘the thrill of the hunt’ is required, otherwise you just feel like a poor loser schlepping for bargain books. The challenge of acquiring awesome books for ridiculously low prices must be one of the things that keeps you going.
2. Know your budget. I sought $1,000 from my school’s parent group for books, but settled for $500, buying books for 25 cents each, and letting many 50 cent books slip through my fingers. To make a bookstore, you need to buy many more books than you have students. The idea is for students to have a wide selection, to be making value judgments about books, instead of being handed a predetermined book as a gift.
3. Scrounge, beg and buy used shelves. I got two revolving carousels donated using the ‘Wanted’ section on Craigslist. Two more were donated from a garage sale. Several more were purchased cheap from a closing art supply store and closing children’s toy store. One shelf came from school district storage.
4. Use book dust jackets as wall decorations. Cut off the cover of the just jacket and laminate it. The American Library Association has some great literacy posters if you have the funding. Having a mother who did a brief stint as a school librarian can be helpful in turning up some 1983 Yoda and Kermit literacy posters, too.
5. Scrounge up a carpet and school chairs. Ours came from school storage (not pictured), but they can also be purchased new using Scholastic credit (obtained from Scholastic Book Fairs that most schools hold). I originally envisioned a sofa and rocking chairs for students to read books in while they wait for classmates to finish choosing their books, but it’s a dream at this point.
That’s it. Most of all, you need your parent group’s support for the idea. Funding has been an uphill battle for me. I worry about sustainable funding.
Meanwhile, our teachers toured the bookstore this week. They’re behind it 100 percent. One described it as “being a kid in a candy store” and another told me we may be the only elementary school to have something like this. I understand now why that may be the case.
So, really, a project like this takes more than time and interest. It takes endurance, and remembering who and what you are fighting for.
Update: Hi Reddit! Thanks for your words of support. Per Redditor bbibber’s request, here is a donate button. Books are purchased for 25 cents. Ten dollars can put books into the hands of 40 students. Your help is greatly appreciated.
Our parent group is a nonprofit organization and donations are tax-deductible in the US. If you’d like a tax receipt mailed or e-mailed to you, there should be an option to specify this during the donation process.
Second Update: Read the follow-up post: A Random Act of Reddit