At last month’s Children’s Institute panel “How to Host a Successful Educator Night,” booksellers shared best practices for welcoming area teachers and librarians into their stores for productive, community-building events. The session, moderated by Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois, featured Lauren Savage of The Reading Bug in San Carlos, California; Kirsten Hess of Let’s Play Books! in Emmaus, Pennsylvania; Meghan Goel of BookPeople in Austin, Texas; and librarian Rita Painter of Menchaca Elementary School in Austin.
Educator nights afford booksellers the opportunity to build relationships with teachers and librarians while providing them with information about the many services the bookstore has to offer. These include bringing authors into the schools; coordinating class visits to the store; special programs, such as “Give Me Summer! Give Me Books!” to foster reading among students; hosting school bookfairs; developing a buying relationship for the classroom; special discounts and terms; and a willingness to meet one-on-one with teachers and librarians to discuss new titles.
Across the board, the panelists agreed that the fall is an ideal time to host an educator night. At The Reading Bug, Savage mainly hosts nights for elementary school teachers, as the store is located in a very young community. “We do ours in the fall, but we do it after school has started, once the teachers and the kids are kind of back in the groove,” she said. Generally, the events are scheduled for late September or early October, though Savage cautioned that it’s important to note when the Jewish holidays fall at that time of year.
Hess, who works closely with teachers at public, private, and charter elementary schools, stressed that booksellers shouldn’t overlook the obvious when scheduling an event. “Make sure that you look at the school calendars of the districts that you’re going to be inviting,” she said. While Let’s Play typically hosts educator nights in the first two weeks of October, Hess noted that May can also be a great time to invite teachers into the store, as can summer, when educators are on their break.
Speaking as a school librarian, Painter agreed that fall is the best time for teachers to be invited to an educator night. “We are just so excited — school’s starting, we’ve got our new school supplies and new books,” she said. “If you can only choose one, fall’s the very best.” BookPeople’s Goel works with Painter and her school of more than 700 students to host author events, as well as with smaller districts in the area and other schools in the Austin Independent School District.
A certain amount of persistence is required to find the right point person at each school to establish a relationship with the bookstore. To find the best person to contact about upcoming events and services, Anderson suggested that booksellers connect with curriculum directors and community relations officers as well as with librarians. Anderson’s outreach to educators includes meeting with parent-teacher associations, hosting two annual educator nights, and bringing publisher sales reps into the store throughout the year to discuss the publishing process. “This is our chance to talk about who we are, what we do, the services we do,” said Anderson.
Anderson’s also treats these events as an opportunity to collect e-mail addresses for future communications. “Every time you have an educator walk in the door, get their e-mail address,” said Anderson. Educators are asked to RSVP for many events, and their responses are tracked in the store’s POS system and can be monitored for cancellations. This also helps increase turnout and reminds guests that it’s an important event with limited availability.
Hess attended six board of education meetings and asked to be put on the docket in order to find the right people to reach out to in her districts. Following the meetings, she e-mailed the educators to let them know what services the store had to offer them. She also penned a letter to several elementary school principals that offered an ARC giveaway and had seven teachers sign up. “They talk to each other,” reminded Hess. “You don’t have to reach all of them, just reach a few.”
Among the enticements offered by booksellers to get educators into their stores are author talks and signings, appearances by educational experts and special guests, and publisher sales rep presentations. Some booksellers also put together gift bags for participants that are filled with ARCs and publisher promotional materials, either stockpiled over the course of the year or procured from the publisher right before the event.
Savage stressed the draw of food and wine as an enticement to bring teachers to events. The Reading Bug distributes a packet of information at the beginning of the night and following refreshments will discuss program offerings, possible discounts, and authors available to visit schools. The event also provides ample time for networking and socializing and gives educators an inside look into the store’s staff picks and favorites of the year, as well as discounts available. Also helpful are raffles, gift cards, artwork, and other free items that can come from publisher kits.
Painter agreed that food and wine can be a great way to get an educator out of the house, but for teachers in her district, she said, having the opportunity to network and socialize with others who love books is a great incentive, as are gift cards to a movie or dinner and small items for students, such as bookmarks.
Building a trusting relationship between the bookstore and a school is critical, said Goel. “We’re also in the business of growing readers, and so are librarians and so are teachers, so viewing them as partners versus customers is really important… If every interaction is about a sale, you lose some of that partnership.”
For one relationship-building event, Goel invited a publisher sales rep to take librarians to a wine bar to talk ARCs, covers, and what their kids were reading. Another very successful event was a reception at the store that brought local authors and nearly 100 librarians together in one place to mingle and have light refreshments. “It was a great experience for us, it was a great experience for the authors, and it was a great experience for the librarians because it was just incredibly community building,” said Goel. After event, she put together a resource list and let reception attendees know about selected author event packages, how to book them, and discounts available as a reward for attending the reception.
“Teachers that you really develop these relationships with become your evangelists,” agreed Anderson. They go on to tell other teachers, parents, and community members about the opportunities available and the positive relationship.
Teacher events are also an opportunity to remind participants about the importance of independent bookstores to the whole community. “You have to do that elevator speech to say why you are so important to this community and what you do for kids and readers and learning,” said Anderson. “You really have to state that and state it strongly.”
Goel judges how an educator night went by the thank-you notes the store receives and the response on social media. “It can be pretty easy to know just how the night went,” she said, but the response is individual to each event. “In general, it’s the feeling that we’ve provided a resource that the people who came didn’t have access to otherwise, and that that’s appreciated.”
ABA member booksellers can now view the full educational session “How to Host a Successful Educator Night” in four parts on the on ABA Education Curriculum page on BookWeb. Video footage of Children’s Institute events was made possible by a grant from author James Patterson.