15 Reasons Why Bookstore/Library Partnerships Are Beneficial

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By Naomi McEneely, Events Coordinator, Lake Forest Book Store

It is a truth universally acknowledged that libraries have readers, booksellers have books, and publishers have authors, and that each of the three is generally in want of the others.

In September 2009, two things became apparent to us at Lake Forest Book Store: one, e-reader sales were hurting independent booksellers, and, two, the libraries of Lake County, Illinois, were interested in and equipped to host author events, but couldn’t do so in a manner that was cost effective. These realizations led to a flurry of activity and a vigorous round of phone tag that resulted in our arranging to partner a store event with a library (and, thus, its larger venue and audience). Nearly two years later, Lake Forest Book Store works with 15 of the 20 libraries in Lake County and has plans to partner with the remaining five by the end of 2011.

When Lake Forest Book Store approached the current 15 libraries, we proposed that the store would bring authors for library events, but only with the stipulation that we would be able to sell books. The libraries were ecstatic, and the whole partnership has been beneficial on every level.

Just as bookstores need customers, libraries need patrons. State funding is based on user traffic, and lower library usage equals a smaller budget — and fewer opportunities for the community.  Author events have proved a reliable method of building patron traffic. In the past, a library that wanted to host an author had to pay a speaker’s fee, and library charters prevented internal book sales. Without the bookstore-library partnership, these events required more of a budget than they would end up stimulating.

Because the net of available locations is so vast, Lake Forest Book Store is able to coordinate multiple events with one author on the same day at libraries that are geographically far enough apart to ensure the audience draws from different populations. The fact that we remain in-county allows for modest travel times; authors aren’t carted about willy-nilly; and publishers needn’t worry about travel expenses. The author gets more exposure, more libraries are able to have more events, and, ideally, we are able to sell a lot of titles.

15 Reasons Why the Partnership Is Beneficial (or, Our Love Is Here to Stay)

1. The libraries have partnerships with local schools and civic organizations that allow them to use their spaces without charge or for very low fees. In the past, the cost of paying for an event space was prohibitive for us, a small store.

2.  All told, the libraries have quarterly newsletters that reach over 850,000 households in the county. They also have online newsletters, readers’ advisories, e-mail blasts, and, in many cases, full-time publicity personnel.  They tweet, Facebook, and know their way around online news aggregates. Four of the libraries in the partnership have even created print ads.

Thriller writers Andrew Grant and Brad Thor were the featured speakers at a pair of events sponsored by Lake Forest Book Store in partnership with area libraries: on a Tuesday at the local civic center in conjunction with the Warren-Newport Library, followed by an appearance on Friday night at a local high school in conjunction with the Vernon District Area Library.

Below: Lake Forest owner Sue Boucher rings up sales.

3. We have been hosting two events a day featuring the authors who come our way — taking the author to one library in the afternoon and another in the evening. The partnership has afforded us a wealth of other options, too: in some cases, we’ve taken authors to a school in the afternoon and a library in the evening, and we’ve hosted a store luncheon and an evening event with a library. Additionally, when one library event has reached capacity, we have the option of asking that library to post the other hosting library’s information on its web page so that patrons can cross-register, which enables us to fill both events.

4.  The relationship libraries have with schools in their districts allows them to partner for author events, an opportunity that has only grown now that Lake Forest Book Store has begun coordinating author appearances for library audiences.  Previously, it was difficult for schools to have such events on their own, as, like libraries, the related author speaker fees were prohibitive. When the library works together with local school districts, they are able to contact parents and teachers — and in some cases, students — through e-mail blasts and in-house advertising.  The libraries coordinate reading lists with the schools and often purchase books for the schools though their Friends of the Library organizations. Additionally, Lake Forest Book Store offers order forms to the schools, selling the book for the book clubs, as well as providing books at events for the general public.

When we bring children’s, youth, and YA authors to the library, we are also able to bring them to their corresponding schools. The author goes to the school during the day and to the library in the evening. The library has its various book clubs read one of the author’s books and then has the author meet with the children in the book club for 15 to 20 minutes before the public evening event. This kind of interaction really fosters a love and appreciation for reading, and it endears authors to their young readership.

5. The libraries host book clubs for preschool, youth, YA, and, in many cases, several different genre book clubs for adults. Often the library will purchase the books for all of the participants in the book clubs.

6. Most of our library partners have implemented a “One Book, One Town” program. This community project bands all library patrons together to read one title for a town book club. Some of the libraries purchase the books for the participants, and other libraries offer them for sale. There are programs organized for both adults and children.

7. Library funding is in part determined by the number of patrons a library serves each year, which is why libraries take attendance and keep count of their patrons.  Off-site library events contribute towards these totals. For example, when we bring an author to a local high school and 4,000 kids hear the author speak, the library affiliated with the event gets to count these kids as patrons served.  The more people they serve, the better their funding and the better their services.

8.  The libraries have hosted author lunches free of charge to their patrons and that has generated higher attendance. We have also held off-sites events in restaurants, high school auditoriums, and various other venues. The librarians working with Lake Forest Book Store have demonstrated, and have been open to, innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, which has had a marked influence on attendance.

The marquee at Lake Villa District Library promoting an appearance by Ann Brashares.

9. Libraries often have marquees, where they post the author’s name and event date for all driving by to see.  This has encouraged walk-ins as well as more general local awareness of events.

10.  At Lake Forest Book Store, we have been pairing authors together in a Las Vegas-style format with great success.  We had one such event last July with Jen Lancaster, who opened the event, followed by Jennifer Wiener.  We had 800 in attendance and a local baker donated 800 cupcakes for the event.

The second part of this scenario is that, with Jen Lancaster being a nonfiction writer and Jennifer Wiener being fiction, we wound up with was a cross-pollination of readers: nonfiction readers reading fiction and vice versa.  The attendees purchased not only their favorite author’s book, but also the other author’s books, too.  This doubled sales for the event compared to the year before, when we hosted Jennifer Wiener alone.

11.  One of our favorite parts at these events is that patrons will have their Kindles in hand and say they have already downloaded the e-book, but they want to purchase the physical copy for the author to sign.  It then becomes an emotional experience and almost a souvenir of the event.  Nostalgia is a powerful force.

12.  The libraries have shared with us the top 100 authors that their patrons check out each year; the 20 most popular genres (and the most-requested authors who write for those genres), and the top 50 authors their patrons would most like to see.  Each of these libraries have collections that reflect their patrons’ interests, so if there is a nonfiction author who will be coming this way, we now of at least two libraries that have a strong interest in nonfiction authors, likewise for science fiction writers, and so on.

13.  Since three of our library partners have demonstration kitchens, for the first time, we are able to host cookbook authors — something that was previously next to impossible to coordinate.

14. The access that the libraries have provided to off-site locations has enabled us to more easily host panels of genre authors, including mystery, cozy mystery, romance, and fantasy.  As panels tend to draw larger crowds, these events have been difficult to host in-store. We have one such event, an off-site luncheon four-author book club panel, planned for this October. A sales rep and a bookstore events coordinator will also contribute to the panel, and the publisher has provided advance copies of upcoming books, to serve as a combined goody bag and preview of new author titles.

15. Our publisher representatives have joined in the partnership by underwriting events for the librarians at Lake Forest Book Store. We all meet at the store for a dinner to discuss the opportunities available through the book store-library partnership, and the publisher reps provide prizes and giveaways in the form of upcoming titles.

As with all emerging programs, some libraries in our partnership have more experience with coordinating events than others. With that in mind, we have held seminars on how to host successful author events, and these well-attended events have gone a long way towards putting everyone on the same page.

By partnering with these area libraries, we have been able to increase our customer base and sales exponentially.  As a small book store with a limited customer base, we were previously unable to host events because of the physical size of our store and/or the lack of customer interest in certain genres.  By reaching out to the libraries in our county, we are able to access a much wider audience.

This partnership has boosted our store sales and it helps libraries boost their patron attendance. Both of us are winning, but the readers, authors, and publishers are winning, too.  We truly think other bookstores could also benefit from partnerships like these we have created by joining forces with libraries.

Naomi McEneely invites anyone who would like to discuss the bookstore-library partnership to contact her.

Lake Forest Book Store was opened in 1949 by a group of local women who decided that Illinois’ small North Shore community needed a bookstore. For 55 years, the bookstore inhabited a small space just south of the town square. For the past 16 years, the store has been owned by Sue Boucher, who several years ago moved Lake Forest Book Store into 1,800 square feet of selling space, located directly across from the Lake Forest train station in the middle of the town square area. In 2009, BTW profiled Lake Forest Book Store on the occasion of its 60th anniversary.