Monday, December 5, 2011

Going Shopping

Last week, I mentioned that I was late for my appointment with the students to go book shopping because of my pet emergency. I thought this week might be timely to explain a bit about my version of this practice, especially since many people are currently in a "shopping mood" as Christmas nears.

I've been taking my students shopping with me since 1998. Back then, I arranged a field trip to the now-defunct Children's Book Store for entire classes, including their teachers. At my two most recent schools (including the one I am currently at), I bring a small handful of students with me to the GTA Resource Fair, which I learned from James Saunders of Saunders Book Company is the biggest vendor fair in Canada, and quite possibly in North America! The GTA Resource Fair assembles nearly thirty different book vendors all in one place in the Queen Elizabeth Building at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. I choose these students from my student Library Helpers. This is one of the biggest perks about being a Library Helper and rewards them for all their time spent shelving books. My Library Assistant president and vice-president help with the selection - we try to choose students who have never missed a scheduled duty and we try to invite a range of grades. (My library assistants are in grades 4 through 8.) I know that my union frowns on teachers driving students around but I still transport the students in my car. Taking a cab would be too expensive and using public transit would take too long.

Before we go to the Resource Fair, I sit down with the students accompanying me and we go over the board's Selection Criteria for choosing books. We also discuss our library's specific needs, such as student requests and areas of the curriculum that need more materials. For our most recent visit, we needed to purchase more books on medieval times because my adult volunteers and I are in the middle of weeding our non-fiction section (we're working backwards and only in the 700s right now) and we purged many of the old and musty books on that particular topic.

Entering the large hall can be an intimidating and awe-inspiring sight. On the car ride down, when we aren't listening to the radio, I remind the students that the GTA Resource Fair is a media creation. All of the vendors are competing for our business. I advise them to carefully watch how vendors display their merchandise and the other tactics they use to attract customers. I remind them that many of the vendors offer the same titles and to compare prices between companies. We always take a quick overview tour of the different tables, describing the specialty focus the company may have (i.e. graphic novels, reference books) and then the students are free to travel in pairs or small groups to shop.

We bring walkie-talkies with us so that the students can contact me when they are ready to finalize their purchases. I double-check the items they select. Occasionally I ask for a brief summary of the book from them or ask them to persuade me why they believe we should buy a particular book. This is an authentic use for those skills we teach in school. I'm spending school funds and I want to be responsible.

My students have proven to be extremely responsible. The vendors now expect to see me with my students whenever I attend these fairs. They report to me that my students are polite, well-mannered and select the books very carefully. My students check inside the books to see if the reading level is appropriate. They consider the pros and cons of hard cover vs paper back editions. They compare prices and worry when they think they've gone over budget.

When I first started bringing my students to the GTA Resource Fair, I actually received some negative reactions from other teacher-librarians, who resented seeing children at what they considered to be an adult-only event. I encounter this attitude rarely now. In fact, I notice that other teacher-librarians have started bringing their students shopping. Both the students and the teacher-librarian benefit. The students have a say in the collection development. They use their critical thinking skills to choose the best books for our school library. The students know how much I pay for the books, which makes them much more careful when handling them. (Our most recent shopping trip cost $1800.) They are also the biggest promoters of the latest additions to the library; they tell their friends what was bought.

When we return, I display all the new books on tables in the library so teachers and students can see the newest books. Teachers will request titles. The only problem with this post-purchasing practice is that the students will incessantly ask/beg me to bar-code the new books as soon as I can and/or reserve them that special book they are dying to read. I still have teaching, yard duty, clubs, and other activities to do in the meantime but I try my best to make the books available. A large amount of books are ready today for borrowing. I hope they enjoy some of the great titles we've obtained and I look forward to continuing our shopping excursions with future library helpers.

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