Booksellers Talk Building School Partnerships in the Time of COVID

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On Wednesday, January 13, the American Booksellers Association presented a virtual education session focused on how booksellers can build partnerships with local school librarians.

Bookseller panelists discussed how to reach out to librarians, what collaboration looks like, the best way to cultivate the partnership, and how a strong relationship with librarians can benefit a bookstore. The panelists included Cynthia Compton of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana; Kenny Brechner of Devaney, Doak, and Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine; and Cecilia Cackley of East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C. 

Watch a full recap of the session on the Education Resources page on

Here is some of what the panelists had to say:

4 Kids Books & Toys

  • Compton shared that one small benefit the new virtual world has brought is the ability to make all relationships personal. Booksellers can reach out to individuals at schools without a lot of formality. Her store has also seen success reaching out to principals.
  • Most educators are doing multiple jobs and have changing roles/environments, just like booksellers. This creates an opportunity for booksellers to step in and help. One example Compton gave is classroom sets of books — some schools might need double or triple sets to accommodate students who need to bring books home. Booksellers can also try serving on committees in public schools.
  • Compton’s store sends a special e-newsletter to educators, which includes book recommendations categorized by age group and current events.
  • When buying for schools, booksellers should ask if they can give a quote for the cost of an order. This gives booksellers the opportunity to explain prices and offer advice (for example, if a book is out of print or only available in a different binding than desired).
  • Take advantage of delivery opportunities to make the school’s job easier; also consider changing staff roles to ensure efficiency for orders and deliveries. Compton also recommended dropping of physical ARCs as a bonus with deliveries if possible. 

Devaney, Doak, and Garrett

  • Brechner said booksellers should be sure to educate themselves about how districts work before approaching them. Try reaching out to the curriculum coordinator first, or a head librarian.
  • It’s also important to network with many different contacts within a district, so if one contact leaves, you can still have a strong relationship within that district.
  • When reaching out to schools to start the conversation about working together, booksellers should keep their strengths in mind and create events or programming that plays to those strengths.
  • Brechner received an opportunity to work with rural schools that receive grants for book purchasing, which further helped him connect with educators. He also worked with a district to fulfill a large order, which was placed with grant money. He noted that jumping on those kinds of opportunities quickly and doing a great job will lead to more opportunities down the line.
  • Create mandatory systems for efficiency and organization. At Brechner’s store, school orders must come in through the store’s IndieCommerce site.
  • If distributing ARCs, consider creating opportunities for students to write reviews for your store’s website.

East City Bookshop

  • If interested in working with a small number of local schools, start by reaching out to the school’s librarian or the PTA.
  • Start small when first working with schools to see how much your staff members can commit to doing. Listening to a district’s needs is really important, but booksellers should also be realistic with their own capabilities.
  • To set boundaries, booksellers can suggest taking on part of a project, and perhaps let districts know of another person or organization that can help with the rest of it.
  • Gentle persistence is now more important than ever. Teachers have more on their plates and might not have time to answer an email or call. But following up consistently and politely can keep booksellers on their radar.
  • Virtual educator nights and virtual field trips are a great way to connect with schools in times of COVID. Virtual book clubs are a good opportunity as well.