Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Fair Blues

Today, my book fair gets picked up. (It ran from September 23-27, 2013.) I coordinate a book fair every year around this time, to coincide with Curriculum Night.  I'm fortunate because I have a full-time volunteer with over 35 years of experience running book fairs to handle the sales, so that it doesn't interrupt my teaching. The students are always excited and delighted to see the book fair arrive in the library. I think we may have broken our sales record - we definitely improved over last year's total.

I'm so glad it's over.

I sound like an ingrate - there are many schools that hold two or even three book fairs per year and they don't have access to the quality assistance I have at my fingertips in the form of my super-volunteer, who happens to be my mother. Despite the fact that she deals with all the sales, there are still many tasks that remain for me to do, including setting-up, closing-down, (I left after 6:00 pm on Friday) confirming totals, completing paperwork, and my "favourite" task: conducting security. I have a wonderful school community but every year we catch at least one person trying to steal objects from the book fair. (I don't kid myself - I'm sure that there's also a few book fair visitors who are successful with their shoplifting, in spite of the measures we have in place to reduce this crime.) I realize that I am lucky that I can still continue to teach classes, and I actually tie my media lessons in with talks about how the book fair is designed to manipulate students into buying things and to be media aware. However, these teachable moments seem to fall on deaf ears when confronted with all the goodies. Even though I stress that students are not obligated to buy anything at the book fair, I see kids begging their parents for items that they aren't necessarily going to use or read after they buy it and bring it home. The book fair is confined to one corner of my large library in a way so that we can still conduct book exchange, but all I hear during this particular week is "When can we go to the book fair?" The popular items to purchase are the ultra-violet pens. (I've had the internal debate about whether or not to choose a book fair company that only sells books, or to refuse to sell the novelty items, but in the end, I decided to continue with the pens, erasers, and book marks because the kids enjoy them, they indirectly encourage writing, and there's no great harm in providing them, as the proceeds go to getting books in the end.) Even the most attentive students are distracted by the books-that-are-not-library-books.

Fundraising is helpful to providing schools and school libraries with resources that our tight budgets may not allow, but I'm grateful that my own school library budget is sufficient enough so that I do not have to rely on book fairs as the only means for obtaining new reading materials. People for Education have articles and forums dedicated to the inequities that fundraising causes. I'd rather teach than sell. This is why, when the students sadly comment that the book fair is no longer here, I'm sure a smile will slip out as I reassure them that the book fair will be back - next year.

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