Children’s booksellers and children’s librarians share several core missions—including promoting literacy and getting books into the hands of young readers. So, it makes sense that professionals in both camps would want to join forces to serve their communities. Although it’s not always easy to forge that kind of partnership, some booksellers and their library counterparts have found a way to create a win-win for both parties, along with their young customers.
One of the most common ways that bookstores and public libraries team up is through librarian discounts on book purchases. “We offer educators and librarians a 10% discount, and they don’t need to have any kind of membership,” says Maxwell Gregory, manager at Lake Forest Book Store in Lake Forest, Ill. By contrast, participants in the store’s long-time loyalty program pay an annual $10 fee to earn similar savings.
Becky Anderson, co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., and two sister locations in the area, goes a step beyond that by participating in the Naperville Public Library’s Show Us Your Library Card promotion with local businesses. “Anybody, anytime, can flash us their library card and get a 10% discount,” she says. Anderson notes that her stores also serve as a stopgap book distributor for local libraries. “They are on a delay when it comes to getting new books on the shelves,” she says. (Library branches often do centralized purchasing, and then books must be processed and cataloged before they can be circulated.) “We help them get hot books in a hurry,” she adds.
And Sam Droke-Dickinson, co-owner of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Pa., is among the many booksellers who offer “educator night” opportunities for librarians and teachers to learn about new books and purchase them from the store. “We do an educator night once in the fall and once in the spring,” she says. “Random House has helped sponsor it, and they send goodies that teachers and librarians can take with them to use as reading prizes.”
Many booksellers also provide reading prizes for summer reading clubs at their local libraries. Typically they offer store gift certificates that children’s librarians distribute. Anderson’s Bookshop offers $5 gift cards to readers who reach designated goals, but, when it comes to summer reading clubs, “we ramp it up,” Anderson says. All children who participate in the libraries’ summer reading programs, or SRC, can enter a raffle to win two author visits for their school, coordinated by the bookstore. Winners (two each in the elementary, middle school, high school, and adult divisions) get to introduce the authors at their events. “We get more exposure this way,” Anderson says. “Thousands of kids take part in SRC. It helps promote the library, too. We can share the wealth.”
Author visits are also a frequent way for booksellers and librarians to collaborate. “We love to take an author event to the library because their space can accommodate a bigger crowd,” says Caitlin Ayer, coordinator of children’s events for nine Books Inc. stores in the Bay Area. “And when we request authors, we can promise them a bigger audience, which usually means more sales.”
In the run-up to such visits, bookstores and libraries generally share publicity efforts to get the word out to their customers and patrons. In a typical scenario, Droke-Dickinson says, “we sell books at an author event, then donate some of the money back to the library.”
In addition to author visits, booksellers frequently have the opportunity to be the on-site vendor for various book-related events. “We have a great partnership with the Friends of the Library at St. Paul Public Library,” says Holly Weinkauf, owner of St. Paul’s Red Balloon Bookshop. “They host the Minnesota Book Awards, and we sell titles at the awards ceremony. It’s a fun night of great book sales.” A portion of those book sales go back to the library, according to Weinkauf.
Aaron’s Books has developed a strong relationship with the public libraries of Lancaster County for the library system’s annual fund-raising luncheon. The most recent featured guest was Pulitzer Prize–winning author Anna Quindlen this past April. Though it is not a children’s event, the luncheon has been a shining example of the potential of joint bookstore-library ventures. “In six years we’ve raised $50,000 or $60,000,” Droke-Dickinson says.
In years past, Anderson’s Bookshop held massive Harry Potter parties that involved partnering with the local libraries to “make it a fun event for our whole downtown,” Anderson says. Approximately 70,000 people came to celebrate the release of the seventh book of J.K. Rowling’s series in 2007. Now the stores and libraries are joining forces again for a July 30 shindig they are calling “The Return of the Party that Shall Not Be Named” to mark the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II (Scholastic/Levine). With the purchase of a ticket to the party, guests receive a number that dictates their place in line to receive their new book at midnight.
With its proximity to the University of Minnesota, Red Balloon enjoys a special partnership with the university’s Children’s Literature Research Collections, which includes the renowned Kerlan Collection. Weinkauf says that, in addition to teaming up for some author visits throughout the year, her store can provide additional resources. “For any new book coming out, and we host the author, [the university] likes to have a signed first edition in their collection,” she says. Because this partnership has worked well over time, Weinkauf says her store now works with the university’s department of curriculum and instruction, as well. “We help them fill in gaps in their children’s collection in the research library,” she says. Each semester, the department awards grants to students who are going into education. “They write an essay about why it’s important to use books in the classroom,” Weinkauf says. “They spend their grant money here. They really enjoy talking with us, and we’re able to help them find things. Some of these kids have grown up in the area and tell us they remember the store from childhood. Or it’s their first time here and they are really happy to see it.”
Other popular bookstore-library projects include book fairs (with schools as well as with other community entities) and “one book”–style programs, in which students or residents of a school, city, county, or state all read the same book over the same time period. And major literacy initiatives, whether sponsored by the American Library Association or other organizations, offer additional opportunities for bookstores and libraries to team up. “The library has been promoting the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten campaign,” Anderson says. “We should all promote it across the country; it’s an easy thing for us to do.”
For many booksellers, it’s easier to work closely with school libraries. “The harder nut to crack is the public library,” Anderson says. “I’ve talked with some other indies, and sometimes it’s almost an adversarial relationship between the public library and the independent store,” she adds. “They feel we’re competing for the same market, but I don’t think that’s true.”
Christy McDanold, owner of Secret Garden Books in Seattle, says: “When a customer apologizes and says, ‘I mostly check out books from the library,’ I say ‘Oh, no, don’t apologize—we are all on the same page.’ There is definitely some crossover of bookstore shoppers and library users in the Venn diagram.”
Books Inc.’s Ayer has a similar take. “It’s really been a natural kind of relationship,” she says of her Bay Area stores’ work with local libraries. “We’re all just book people. I think our customer base and regular patrons of the library may be different groups in some ways, but there is overlap.”
Though positive examples of smooth-sailing collaborations abound, McDanold points out some of the challenges she has faced while trying to maintain and build library relationships in recent years. With a branch of the Seattle Public Library “within a block of my store,” McDanold says, author events were formerly routine. “But after the budget crunch of 2008, the libraries have had to respond to community needs, and they are more challenged. We can’t quite maintain a regular schedule anymore.” Those budgeting issues have had a ripple effect. “With leadership changes in the library, all book buying and some of the programming is centralized,” she says. “For an event at my local branch, they may have books from a store in another part of town. I’ve been pretty frustrated with that.”
“The cycle of poverty has hit us all,” McDanold says of the economic downturn. “It’s easy to complain that we’re not getting enough of the pie. But we have to get over that mentality and realize it’s still a pie—and it has some cherries in it!”
Whatever form collaboration takes, Anderson believes that a key common goal for bookstores and libraries is discoverability: getting the word out about books, resources, programs. “That is what libraries and bookstores do,” Anderson says. And it’s a topic with which she has recently become more familiar as she’s taken on a new role in her community. “As of a year ago, I’m on the library board,” she says. “That has given me another perspective on the issues we all face. I think any indie bookseller should be on their library’s board. It’s enlightening both ways.”
The beginning of discoverability is basic networking—getting to know the librarians and booksellers in your neighborhood. “I have a core group of librarians I reach out to,” Ayer says. “And the staff makes a point of getting to know the educators and librarians in the community. They come in a lot; they’re interested in seeing what’s new.”
Gregory sees the same kind of action at Lake Forest: “I’ve had four librarians in the store all on the same day.” And McDanold says she and her staff keep abreast of the books that are on the reserve or wait lists at the library in Seattle. “It’s a way that we’re staying aware of what’s in demand,” she says.
ALA is copresenting a panel with ABA titled “Partnering with Your Local Library” on Thursday, June 23, 10:15–11:15 a.m., in the Magnolia-Jasmine Ballroom.