With a love for books and a commitment to sharing that passion, independent booksellers and K–12 educators have a natural affinity for one another. Across the country, a growing number of bookstores are taking deliberate steps to deepen those ties by hosting educator nights. For booksellers in Denver, New York City, and St. Louis, the creation of dedicated events for educators has been an education in its own right, and one that has helped them establish their stores as important partners in the educational landscapes of their respective cities.

Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Stores have a simple mission for their educator nights: “This is a fun, entertaining evening for educators to celebrate books and reading,” says co-owner Kristen Gilligan, who launched the stores’ educator nights in 2017.

The September events, which are held at two of the bookstore’s locations, draw between 400 and 500 educators and feature a speed-dating meet-and-greet with three publishers, stations for meeting more than two dozen local authors, wine, snacks, goodie bags, and a passport contest for educators who can meet the most authors in the various aisles and nooks of the bookstores.

Though Gilligan wants the events to provide educators with an entertaining evening out, she says the overarching purpose of the events is to help them “realize the rich, literary environment they’re part of by meeting authors who live in the same place they’re teaching children, and to hear from the publishers directly.”

Pitching the Bookstore

As standalone events, Gilligan says the educator nights are not profitable, but the long-term relationships that the store generates are. Those connections are the reason that bookseller Melissa Posten launched an educator night program soon after she began working at the Novel Neighbor in St. Louis, Mo. With more than 75 schools located a short drive from the bookstore, Posten believed that educator nights could help introduce the store to teachers in ways that would lead to profitable partnerships.

Novel Neighbor hosts four to five educator nights each year, featuring a presentation of book picks by Posten, giveaways of advance reader copies, and an author or publisher presentation. “We offer a lot of things to schools that many people don’t know about,” Posten says, “so I see every educator night as an opportunity to educate everybody about all of the different things that we can do.”

Though school author visits are a common way that the educator nights lead to deeper connections between the bookstore and surrounding schools, Posten says that when educators become accustomed to seeking out the bookstore for expertise on titles that will work for their students, it can lead to in-school book fairs and library orders. “We are trying to gently tell schools that if they just shift a percentage of their business to us, it would make a big difference,” she notes.

After just a short time, the store’s efforts are paying off in different ways. The events have opened up a wider selection of authors for the store to host, and the events themselves have led to new partnerships with schools. “Sometimes,” Posten says, “a librarian will come in for educator night, and I have no connection with their school, and it will be that evening with that person that starts a good relationship for author visits.”

For some booksellers, educator nights are an opportunity to showcase the educational potential of the bookstore itself as a community hub for ideas. At Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, school partnerships manager Alexandra Bynoe-Kasden has transformed a twice-annual series from an evening with publisher reps to an event that includes both reps and an audience-specific author discussion.

“The model offers both an author reading or talk with a book related to pedagogy or other educator-relevant subjects,” says Bynoe-Kasden, who hosts the events at Greenlight’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens location. The store’s most recent event included reps from Scholastic and Workman as well as a talk by Jamila Lyiscott, author of Black Appetite. White Food.: Issues of Race, Voice, and Justice Within and Beyond the Classroom (Routledge).

Overcoming Obstacles

For all three bookstores, the process of establishing successful educator nights has come with some challenges, the biggest of which is setting up an event that appeals to educators who teach different grade levels or represent specific communities.

At Greenlight, Bynoe-Kasden is on the lookout for authors who can speak to specific classroom issues that educators may be looking to take up, such as social justice. At Novel Neighbor, Posten has found that organizing the schedule of events in a particular way creates easy opportunities for educators to browse the store when a part of the evening is not geared toward their particular students’ grade level.

At Tattered Cover, Gilligan’s greatest challenge has been defining the word educator. Gilligan says she quickly discovered that the store had to have a precise definition. “Our goal is to work with current Denver Metro area educators in elementary, middle, and high schools,” Gilligan says, “not retired teachers who are looking to stay connected, not people who live 500 miles away, not people who are self-published authors who claim they are teachers, not people who once walked into a school and hear there are free things at the event.”

Like Posten and Bynoe-Kasden, Gilligan emphasizes that the degree of precision in conducting these events is a sign of respect for the relationships she hopes the store can build with educators by starting a conversation that invites them into the bookstore. “Our goal is to bring all these parties together to see the literary renaissance that is happening right here, right now, while being offered tangible ways to be a part of it,” she says.

See more of our Fall 2019 School & Library Spotlight here.